Saturday, 17 March 2012

Cruise Shipping Miami - Day Four

Having had our plans on Day 3 go slightly awry, we were determined to make up for things on the final day of the Convention but, email and other concerns again got in the way in the morning, hence we were slightly late in arriving back at the Miami Beach Convention Center (which is not earning many marks from us for its overall conference-staging status - give us Orlando any day of the week!).

The morning sessions had already started, but we had already heard a lot this week about Emerging Markets and the other workshop forums were more technical and sales orientated, hence not of immediate interest to us.Therefore we focused primarily back on the main Exhibition floor and the many destinations who are exhibiting this year (A LOT more than I remember from my last visit, which was, admittedly, 10 or more years ago).

Again, another snag with this convention is that there seems little order or organisation to the floor lay-out and trying to navigate around the many booths is not conducive to time efficiency. The big Meyer-Werft shipyard is front-and-centre in the Destination 'half' of the exhibition while both Germany and Italy are oddly positioned in the heart of the Technical 'half.'

There is very little sign of Brazil, for such a key emerging market, and our attempts to find the port of Sao Paulo ended in abject failure. Some places, notably Turku from Finland, are tucked away at the very back of the hall and impossible to locate.However, we do make considerable progress for the next few hours and turn up some more destination gems that are likely to feature in our pages in the coming months.

First among them is Guatemala (above), where we meet with the head of tourism and a notable tour operator, and learn a LOT about this remarkable Central American country and its features for cruise-ship visitors, especially with their historic Mayan culture and the amazing eco and bio-diversity on offer (and the chance to visit an active volcano - count me in!). This is definitely somewhere we will take a much closer look at from the destination point of view for, while they currently receive only 30 or so cruise ships visits in the winter season, they have both a Caribbean and a Pacific coastline that has all the hallmarks of great cruise tourist potential.

We spend some time catching up with our old friend Tom Bartosek from the Space Coast CVB on the Port Canaveral stand and visit with the Celtic Wave folks, who are building an interesting cruise alliance between the cruise ports of Wales and those on the Irish Sea coast of Ireland (or the 'Celtic Sea' as they insisted!).

Back in the Caribbean, we spoke to the tourist boards for Barbados and the US Virgin Islands, learning the latest developments on these picture-perfect tropical paradises, and also learned how the Turks & Caicos Islands are recovering well from the damage inflicted by Hurricane Irene last year - with a lot of help from the Carnival Corporation and Carnival Cruise Lines in particular, it was pleasing to hear.

We learnt about Southampton's plans to manage their Big Day on July 3 when they will have all SEVEN P&O Cruises ships in port for the line's 175th anniversary for the very first time and discovered more generally uncharted cruise territory in Newfoundland & Labrador (www.cruisetheedge.com), although they are fast generating a lot of buzz as another great off-the-beaten-track destination.

There was a chance to get up to date on the initial success of Harmony Cruises in Korea (who we flagged up in a destination preview in our Winter edition) and quick visits with each of Oman, Abu Dhabi and Dubai, to learn about how this region is becoming a major winter cruise area in its own right. Other visits included the South Pacific Cruise Alliance, Japan and Scotland's West Coast (or 'the new Alaska,' as they have dubbed it - a fairly high marker in the cruise world, but one which looks like having a fair amount of success).

I got (briefly) side-tracked by the many wonderful ship models on show at the big stands for ship-building giants Meyer-Werft (Germany), Fincantieri (Italy, above) and STX (France), while we also discovered a neat new product for those travelling with luggage. The Ulli luggage cover is a special cover that stretches over most suitcases and acts both as an instant identifier and as a measure of individual style. You can look them up at www.millerigge.com.

Finally, as we dashed hither and thither in time to catch the afternoon workshop session, I also came across another good friend who I hadn't seen in a while as we cruised past the big Greek booth. Demetrios Kaparis is the former principal ship designer for Celebrity Cruises, who I had got to know on several visits to the Meyer-Werft shipyard in Papenburg, Germany, in the 1990s when the line was building its Century-class vessels.

Now semi-retired, Demetrios still keeps his hand in with various aspects of cruise design and is currently heading up a tourism initiative for his home port of Patras in Greece and a major proposed new terminal development for the island of Zakynthos, which has terrific cruise potential in an over-cruised part of the world. Demetrios has been involved in the ship-building and cruise world since 1960 and his enthusiasm for the business is as keen as ever.

While we didn't spend long in the 'technical' half of the Hall, Susan's big discovery was the Meritech company (below), who supply high-tech new hand-washers to the two recent Disney ships as well as to Holland America. Used in many food-processing and manufacturing plants, these are the very latest word in infection protection and are likely to play a big role in the eradication of the hated Norovirus on board cruise ships.

Finally, we headed back upstairs to the workshops and managed to catch most of an interesting presentation on Enhancing the Links Between Cruising & Aviation, which highlighted the challenges (and benefits) of cruise lines looking at how they source and support their fly-cruise operations with effective air-lift. It raised some unexpected questions, especially about the future use of the huge A380 Airbus and the Boeing Dreamliner, but also served to pinpoint some key areas that most people might not associate with the average cruise, like making sure a port is 'paired' with another airport-city.

Another long-time cruise contact, former Thomson Cruises marketing chief David Selby (now with his own consultancy firm, TravelYields) was one of the expert panel, and it was good to hear his thoughts on the subject, as well as catch up on a range of other cruise topics afterwards.

And so, after four feature-packed, non-stop, all-action days in South Beach, it was time to call time on the 2012 Cruise Shipping Miami convention. We came away weighed down with enough info packs and collateral to start a library but also with plenty of good news stories (make sure to see our forthcoming Spring edition of World of Cruising). We renewed contact with several old friends and made lots of new ones.

Highlights included the State of the Industry session on the Tuesday morning, the many new destinations on show, the grand MSC Cruises lunch and the Hurtigruten reception at the Van Dyke Cafe. Had some great chats with the likes of David Dingle (P&O), Nigel Lingard (AD Cruising) and Charles Robertson (American Cruise Lines), and thoroughly enjoyed all the workshop sessions we attended.

On the debit side, the exhibition could certainly have been better organised, both geographically and in number term (anyone who could work out the crazy system of rows and booths was doing better than I!). There is also a feeling of being in a tired, complacent venue, one that wasn't well geared up for business early on and never really went out of its way to be the dynamic, modern stage that the industry needs. We heard a lot of complaints about the quality of hotels many of the delegates were staying in and getting around South Beach by car continues to be a real slog.

Whether this will change in future, we can only wait to see. Miami Beach certainly needs to raise its game in convention terms but, as Miami remains the nominal 'home' of the cruise world, it is hard to see them going elsewhere. We still got a lot out of the week and, after initial problems with no media WiFi access, were well catered for in press terms. It remains an essential forum for anyone even vaguely associated with cruising and the cruise world, and I'm sure we'll be back.