With China in the spotlight as a fast-growing cruise market, presidents of major North American cruise lines had a message for hundreds of travel agents Wednesday: There are lots of ships to fill closer to home.
The cruise3sixty conference and trade show, in its 11th year, is put on by the Cruise Lines International Association. Nearly 1,300 travel agents from around the United States and Canada registered to attend the event, which was held at the Greater Fort Lauderdale/Broward County Convention Center.
While acknowledging that his company is “looking very closely” at Asia, where it does not yet have any ships deployed, Norwegian Cruise Line president and chief operating officer Andy Stuart said the North American market is still a priority. The Miami-based line’s next new ship, Norwegian Escape, is launching in Miami in November.
“I think there’s plenty of capacity to keep this whole room busy,” he told the agents during a session at the annual cruise3sixty conference for travel agents. “Nobody should feel worried there’s not enough capacity for travel agents here. So keep selling!”
Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises, pointed out that some expansion in Asia could translate to high-end sales for North American agents. Itineraries for cruises in Japan, for example, are crafted to deliver travelers to destinations during cultural festivals.
“There’s such a wealth of product for you to sell at quite high prices, so I encourage you to think about Asia within the context of the portfolio of products that you introduce,” Swartz told the group.
Still, the Caribbean remains the top cruise destination in the world and some of the conversation focused on one island in particular that has remained off limits to Americans.
Regarding Cuba, asked Cruise Critic editor in chief Carolyn Spencer Brown, who moderated the discussion: “When’s it gonna happen, what’s it gonna look like?”
For upscale Celebrity Cruises, which focuses on seven-night and longer voyages, president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo said she anticipates Cuba would eventually be an “added feature” on a long Caribbean itinerary as opposed to the central focus of a voyage.
“We are thinking about it, we are looking at it,” she said. “We are trying to get prepared if and when it happens.”
Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruise Line, said the operator expects “a lot of pent-up demand” but also expects a need for investment in infrastructure on the island once visits are allowed.
“We all agree it does seem much more serious and further along than it ever has been,” she said. “At the end of the day, we don’t get to decide, we get to be as prepared as we can.”
Also at the event, European line MSC Cruises announced that it would start sailing its 3,502-passenger ship Divina year-round from Miami in November.
The operator has had an on-again, off-again relationship with year-round Caribbean cruising: In March 2013, MSC announced Divina would be based in Miami full-time starting later that year. In April 2014, however, the company said the ship would return to the Mediterranean for the summer of 2015.
As recently as last month, Divina was set to continue spending summers in Europe and winters in the Caribbean through early 2018, but executives announced Wednesday that it had seen strong enough demand to bring the ship back to Miami full-time later this year.
MSC Seaside, which launches in November 2017, will also be based year-round in Miami.