“Which at the time was a wonderful decision,” said President and CEO Kevin Sheehan.
But he said the summer season in Europe has not performed as expected.
“We held as long and as desperately as possible,” he said, referring to prices. “You get one nervous player and they start putting deep discounting into the market and you’re only as strong as your weakest competitor.”
Still, he said, he expects to get through the season “OK” and believes business will improve to “reasonably good” by the fourth quarter.
To bump business, MSC Cruises increased marketing and promotional efforts to reach passengers outside of the continent. It has all 12 of its ships in Europe this summer.
“There is always a way to step up activity in other parts of the world that are not as sensitive to economic concerns,” said Rick Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Cruises USA. “We have a confidence that we’re doing the right thing, we’re managing through adversity.”
In an earnings call last month, Carnival Corp., the world’s largest cruise ship company, said that bookings had increased year-over-year during the quarter that ended May 31. That business was likely stimulated by major promotions such as airfare discounts, price slashes and onboard credits or upgrades — tactics embraced by many cruise lines.
And travel agents report that business appears to have normalized for U.S. customers after a drop immediately following the wreck.
Michelle Fee, CEO of home-based travel agent network Cruise Planners — American Express Travel, said agents have been selling more cruises to American customers at higher prices than in previous years.
She said that confirms the results of a survey the company conducted after the Concordia wreck asking if past cruisers would be scared away from future cruise vacations. About 99 percent said it would not make a difference, though Fee said the survey couldn’t predict behavior for people who have never before cruised.
Industry leaders feared at the time that first-time cruisers — who are key to growing the business — would be most heavily impacted. Last month, Chairman and CEO of Carnival Corp. Micky Arison said in an earnings call that those fears were realized.
“Our surveys clearly show that [first-time cruisers] were impacted by the events,” he said. “And hopefully, the further we get away from those events, the more likely they will bounce back.”
The industry’s trade group, the Cruise Lines International Association, has worked since the accident to portray cruising as a safe and heavily regulated form of travel — a difficult task as news stories have zeroed in on the question of safety and crime on ships.
“The number one priority of the global cruise industry is the safety of passengers and crew,” said Mike McGarry, CLIA’s senior vice president for public affairs in a statement. “In the wake of the Concordia incident on behalf of the global cruise industry, CLIA launched...a comprehensive assessment of the critical human factors and operational aspects of maritime safety. In less than six months, this ongoing review has resulted in the implementation of six new global policies developed to achieve our longstanding goal of continuous improvement and innovation in shipboard operations and safety.”
Those policies include: having more lifejackets aboard ships than are required by law; limiting access to a ship’s bridge at potentially dangerous times; requiring cruise ship routes to be planned in advance and shared with all members of the bridge team; standardizing 12 key points that passengers will learn during muster drills and emergency instruction. and mandating that those emergency drills are performed for all embarking passengers before a ship leaves port.
Many of those changes should have already been in place before the incident, said CruiseCritic’s Spencer Brown.
“You’re starting to see the change,” she said. “You’re starting to see some standards. That’s an important positive.”
This report was supplemented with information from the Associated Press.