With Mishaps in the Past, Cruise-Industry CEOs Optimistic

MIAMI (The Miami Herald/MCT) -

With a couple of tumultuous years in the rearview mirror, the leaders of the world’s largest cruise companies are focusing on introducing new audiences to their product, both in the United States and around the world.

Chief executives of Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and MSC Cruises sized up the state of the global cruise industry Tuesday morning with a calmer-seas outlook, at Cruise Shipping Miami. The industry’s largest annual conference, which is expected to draw about 11,000 attendees, runs through Thursday at the Miami Beach Convention Center.

For the first time in several years, conference organizers were free to focus on positive developments. Last February, the disabling fire of the Carnival Triumph dominated conversation; the year before, the deadly Costa Concordia shipwreck in January claimed the headlines.

“I think the focus is on how much better things are now – and it’s nice to see how much better,” said Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Fain pointed out that incidents in the past couple of years – including a fire on a Royal Caribbean ship in 2013 – drew widespread attention because they were so unusual. And, he said, the industry showed its resilience.

“I’m a little sorry that we had to prove it so many times,” he said. “We’re though that, so I’m feeling very good about the years ahead.”

The discussion, moderated by BBC World News America anchor Katty Kay, touched on global expansion, first-time cruisers, regulations, taxes and onboard technology.

But the conversation still touched on recent hurdles.

Kevin Sheehan, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Ltd., pointed out that hardships began several years ago with the economic downturn. He said he hopes a strengthening economy and other indicators will enable cruise lines to set prices with more confidence.

“It’s a ridiculously strong value, which is a good thing for the consumer. We don’t want it to be quite as good a value,” he said. “We deserve a higher price. … I think we’re poised for that right now.”

Arnold Donald, in his first appearance at the conference since taking over as CEO of Carnival Corp. last summer, pointed out that cruising should thrive in a recession because of its value proposition.

“We’re probably more cost effective than visiting your relatives, and depending on your relatives, we’re a lot more fun,” he joked.

Donald said the opportunity and the challenge is to reach those who have never taken a cruise and “have no concept or the wrong concept of what this really is.”

“We’re a great industry,” he said. “We’re a happy industry. We provide joyful vacations.”