Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Cruise Shipping Miami - Day One

I promised we would report back 'live' from the big Cruise Shipping Miami convention this week and, a little later than hoped, here is a run-down of Day One at the world's biggest passenger shipping conference.

The convention basically has two main sections, the workship-style conference sessions into various aspects of the cruise business, and the Exhibition hall, split into Cruise Suppliers and Destinations. The exhibition is not open on the first day (they were still setting up when we peeked inside), hence the opening session is all about the workshops.

But first a quick gripe. Much to our surprise there was NO WiFi available to the media today (or, possibly, for the rest of the convention). Apparently it is a cost-cutting measure on the organisers' part. So they obviously don't want us to Tweet, blog and send 'live' reports back from the conference. An odd choice when there is an official Twitter hashtag for the convention (#CSM2012). There was also nothing to eat (apart from plain croissants and muffins) anywhere in the South Beach Convention Center, hence we needed to dash out to the nearest Starbucks to grab a quick sandwich (and get online) during the lunch break. Not very impressive for a so-called 'convention' venue.

Those are obviously minor quibbles, but it does make you wonder if Miami is no longer the ideal choice for this kind of thing. We would certainly give Orlando a big advantage on this score, especially as there is no actual need to be near a port!

Anyway, we did get straight into business mode in the morning, with an excellent seminar on Global Source Market Trends. This two-hour session featured six significant industry experts, including Britain's Bill Gibbons - head of the Passenger Shipping Association - and Tim Marking, the secretary general of the European Cruise Council.

A packed audience (it was standing-room only) heard first from Marking, who offered the latest stats on European cruisers - over 6 million in 2011, up 9% on 2010, and more than double the numbers of just eight years ago. Next up was Gibbons (below), who supplied similar data from the UK market, including the fact British passenger growth has slowed but still hit a record 1.7 million.

Cruising continues to out-perform all other sectors of the UK holiday market, though, with round-Britain voyages showing special growth and the percentage of first-time cruisers up to a whopping 40%.

Brazilian Ricardo Amaral of the South American cruise commission Abremar made some fascinating observations for the potential of growth in his home area, including the likes of MSC Cruises and Costa bringing their largest ships to Brazil this winter, lengthening the season to almost 6 months (when it used to be just three) and making his country the fifth-largest source market ih the world. Clearly, there is room for more significant cruise growth here.

Then we heard from Orion Expedition Cruises (and Australia Cruise Alliance) founder and chief executive Sarina Bratton on the continued strong growth of cruising Down Under while Melvin Yu, from Singapore, spoke about the potential explosion of domestic cruising in Asia, notably in China. Amaral, Bratton and Yu all provided a particularly fresh and dynamic approach to the forum.

It provided a lot of food for thought - Brazil as a major cruise destination; huge growth in China; more opportunities in Australia and the South Pacific? - and set up an equally enthralling afternoon session looking at New Destination Development.

This provided even more evidence of the 'globalisation' of the cruise business, with Luis de Carvalho of cruise specialists Consult-DC offering an especially intriguing look at possible West and Central African destinations. This was followed by a more traditional destination, the Atlantic Alliance (a conglomeration of cruise ports from Hamburg to Lisbon), with Nadine Palatz highlighting how this region has transformed itself from a 'transit area' to a series of major cruise ports.

Nigel Lingard, formerly of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines and now a specialist consultant for AD Cruising (who include Swan Hellenic, Voyages of Discovery and Hebridean Island Cruises) got out his maritime crystal ball to predict a few other intriguing destination possibilities, including Madagascar, north-east South America, Indonesia and the Phillippines, and Anthony Lau of the Hong Kong Tourist Board wrapped things up in style with a fascinating look at major developments in his region, including the fact this could become a major cruise hub to rival the likes of Miami in future.

A Q&A session followed each workshop and there was also input from Royal Caribbean's Middle East expert Helen Beck, who offered some thoughts on the growth of Dubai as a winter cruise hub.

All in all, it was a genuinely insightful and well-presented look at the possible future(s) of cruise shipping, and sets things up nicely for Day Two, which kicks off with the main highlight of the State of the Industry session featuring the likes of the CEO's of Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Holland America and Norwegian Cruise Line.

In the wake of the recent Costa Concordia tragedy, it will be fascinating to hear what the real head honchos think of things and the apparent dip in cruise bookings since January 13.

Stay tuned, folks...!