Last week, one of the most important, extravagant and lucrative events in the world descended upon Miami…and there wasn’t an A list celebrity in site (unless you count a video address by President Obama). Cruise Shipping Miami, the Cruise Industry’s Premier Global Event, took over Miami Beach Convention Center from Monday to Friday and the occasion was, in a word, fascinating.  The cruise industry is a HUGE part of Miami’s business landscape, so I wanted to report back on the major findings…

The event kicked-off with a “State of the Industry” Address from all of the top industry CEO’s as well as tourism professionals.

I’ll admit – upon first inspection, I didn’t expect this panel to be nearly as interesting as it was.  I was sort of just waiting for the recap of the recent Carnival Triumph “incident” (more on that).  But listening to advancements and stats about cruising as well as travel and tourism in general, I realized how truly and unequivocally important this industry is to our fair city (and state).  In fact, travel and tourism employs six times more people than the auto industry, has a 6.6 trillion worth and makes up 9% of the global GDP.  Not to sound nerdy, but WOW!

Enter cruise lines…  The industry is worth $36 billion.  And the #1 cruise destination? North America (fueled by the Caribbean)!  The U.S. needs to be at the forefront of this push, as we can expect to add five million jobs from tourism over the next few years (hence the Obama video, which was presented at the G20 world summit this year). As our fearless leader pointed out, “we have a great product to sell”

After the “rah rah travel industry” discussion wrapped up, all eyes turned to Gerry Cahill – CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, to see what he had to say about the recent Triumph incident (reminder: engine fire, loss of power, cruise ship adrift for days with little food and poopy water splashing around).

Cahill’s summary went like this, “Once the fire occurred, I can tell you that our highest and only priority was the safety of our guests and the crew.  Trying to make things as comfortable as we could for them in a tough position and also to get everyone home as quickly and safely as we possibly could.”  He also gave a nice shout out to the crew saying, “When I visited the Carnival Triumph when it got to Mobile…it was very heartwarming to talk to so many guests to find out what a great job the crew had done.”

He continued to explain that Carnival is taking many steps to figure out what happened and review safety procedures.  The moderator of the panel then asked Gerry how can he can make first-time cruises feel safe, and his answer put this whole fiasco into true perspective, “If you look at the history of the industry there have been very few incidents like this and the good news is that when we’ve had things like this, we’ve always been able to deal with it safely. No one was injured on the Carnival Triumph, no one was hurt, no one was ever at risk…”

So that’s the serious stuff.  Onto the fun stuff.  Cruising folks are constantly under pressure to come up with cool new sh**.  And indeed, they are doing just that.  One major element is new destinations being added (Carnival just launched a ship in Australia and the company, in an effort to relate to the light-hearted Australian spirit, made Cahil wear “the tightest shorts I’ve ever seen in my life” at the launch).  Disney recently added a cruise to Spain, Celebrity has set up three offices in China to address to booming Asian market, and of Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, Chairman of Silversea Cruises mentioned expansion into the Galapagos Islands, the Coral Islands and St. Petersburg, Russia.

As far as trends, the panel went through a “lighting round” where they discussed new and exciting elements we can all look forward to.  See summary:

  • Michael Bayley, President & CEO of Celebrity Cruises pointed out that the desire for good Food & Wine is the most important desire they are seeing in the U.S. market. He explained, ” One of the things we’ve executed over the past 6-9 months is this idea of Pop Up Restaurants. We’ve introduced this concept in key markets where we’ve literally put together a pop-up, best chefs for a week, invite influential people, come and experience the food from Celebrity Cruises.  This helps significantly in trying to remove the obstacles people have in their mind of cruising/the overall experience. ”

    A Display of creative food options from Indonesian Tourism

  • Adam Goldstein, President & CEO, Royal Caribbean International said the Dreamworks experience has been very compelling, especially to potential first timers – now they know such entertainment exists on your ships.  He also mentioned the Chinese cruisers LOVE the characters!
  • Carnival’s Cahil said they will expand on “Fun Ship 2.0″ targeted at young people and have 30 new branded experiences and spaces in the pipeline. Specifically, the Guy Fieri burger joint has been very successful – they’ve already served a million burgers since that’s gone on the ship.  Aligning yourself with a celebrity that fits your brand is important. 
  • Possibly the largest advancement came from Norwegian Cruise Lines, who announced the “Norwegian Breakway” – the largest ship to ever port in NYC.  The ship will be christened by the Rockettes and the hull is designed by NY Icon artist Peter Max.  It features an open-air quarter mile boardwalk, three Broadway shows, an environmentally friendly fireworks display, the debut of Geoffrey Zakarian’s first restaurant at sea: Ocean Blue, hot dog carts, and the first ever Aqua park at sea – five multi-story water slides.  Additionally, the ship will have the largest youth and teen dedicated facilities in the fleet – two decks separated by age group.  Presumably this is in an effort to avoid the, “OMG mom, these stupid ten year olds keep trying to snap my bikini top” fits from teenage girls.

Indonesian Tea boxes – seem much cooler than Capri Sun, no?

Walking around the floor, it was amazing to see exhibitors from EVERYWHERE.  As was much discussed in the lecture, Asia is the fastest growing region for cruising.  Distributors from China, the Koreas, Japan, Indonesia, etc. were all vying for attention.  And those countries are pouring money into building this industry.     Two major things dawned on me while walking around – 1) Isn’t it amazing to see all these countries, many of whom are “enemies” could work side by side when it came to something as simple as travel.

2) I never thought I wanted to go on a cruise until now.  Did you know DISNEY CRUISES GO TO SPAIN?!? hmmmm

A small corner of the show room

Alaskan Cruises drawing people in….