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As cruise lines expand with more and more new ships, they also expand into new destinations and new markets. At Seatrade Cruise Global 2016, the conversation, of course, featured Cuba and China, initially at the annual convention's state of the industry panel, and a broader look at domestic and international regions as well.
At "The State of the Cruise Industry: Americas" panel, Anne Kalosh, U.S. Editor, Seatrade Cruise Review/Seatrade Cruise News, moderated Orlando Ashford, President, Holland America; Mark Conroy, Managing Director - The Americas, Silversea Cruises; Richard Sasso, President, MSC Cruises (USA) and Jan Swartz, President, Princess Cruises.
As the Alaska season for 2016 is currently kicking off, the panel focused largely on developments there. Particularly interesting was how Swartz pointed out the importance of coordinating the deployment of her Princess Cruises brand and Ashford's Holland America Line brand, each part of Carnival Corporation, in the region. Ashford added that as ships get bigger, finding the right balance not just among fleets but in specific ports is crucial to the guest experience, to plan on just so many people in the city and on excursions at any given time. Plus corporately, Carnival's Seabourn Cruise Line brand is heading back to Alaska in 2017.
For 2016, highlights that were brought up included Royal Caribbean International sending the largest cruise ship to ever sail in Alaska with the Explorer of the Seas and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings Limited investing in the port of Seattle, Washington for its ships heading north. Silversea's Conroy also believes that the more lines are in Alaska the better it is for promoting the region overall, especially since Alaska is less discounted with its shorter season.
On the flip side, Sasso's MSC Cruises has surprisingly yet to deploy any of its ships to Alaska. Conroy expanded beyond the Americas to also briefly chat about the Panama Canal locks expansion project, and even though Silversea is only a seasonal operator in the Caribbean, he thinks it's a helpful development in keeping travelers interested.
Similarly, Mary Bond, managing director of publishing & editor, Seatrade Cruise Review/Seatrade Insider, moderated "The State of the Cruise Industry: Asia/Australia" panel, featuring Sarina Bratton AM, chairman Asia Pacific, Ponant Yacht Cruises & Expeditions; Zinan Liu, president, North APAC & China, Royal Caribbean International & Chairman, CLIA North Asia; Gavin Smith, regional VP, Asia Pacific, RCL Cruises Ltd & Chairman, CLIA Australasia and Jan Swartz, president, Princess Cruises.
The big word in cruising right now - beyond Cuba, at least - is China, and rising income levels and the desire to cruise among the Chinese people makes the region rife with potential as a swiftly expanding source market. In fact, there are not enough ships to meet the demand. But Royal Caribbean's Liu is more cautiously optimistic as he said lines should not assume it's an "easy win market."
He reminded that it still takes a great effort to establish a cruise industry in China and that capacity distribution and port congestion issues pose challenges. He added that most Chinese are new to cruise, and the optimal sailing length for the market is 5 nights. As it is now, voyages typically go to Korea and Japan, and charters are particularly popular as Chinese are less independent travelers who prefer group travel.
Princess' Swartz said it's an "entrepreneurial time throughout Asia" and that while cruising is well established in some areas, awareness is still being built up in others. Nonetheless, the Princess experience has been well received by the Asian market as it has been in Australia. Plus, as the largest outbound source market, China has the potential to go beyond just home-porting locally to Chinese taking cruises elsewhere in say Alaska or Europe.
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Jason Leppert - Senior Writer, Cruises and Cruise Travel - is a San Diego-based cruising expert with more than 100 sailings...
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