Takeaways and Insights from the 39th Annual SeaTrade Cruise Global

After spending a few days with about 11,000 others at SeaTrade Cruise Global in Miami this week, I walked away thinking the future is challenging yet dynamic in the travel industry. Here’s some highlights I heard about or saw while attending the leading cruise event.

The Cruise Forecast is Excellent. Even before COVID, the cruise industry was experiencing tremendous growth, heralding numbers that exceeded 29 million ocean-going cruise passengers in FY 19 prior to COVID. Now, with 31.7 million passengers boarding cruises in 2023, the industry is expecting to surpass 39 million in 2027.  

An abundance of new ships are on the horizon. With a robust growth in bookings, several cruise lines reported the following numbers of new ships ordered during the conference including Norwegian Cruise Lines Holding, 13; Royal Caribbean, 9;  Carnival Corporation, 4 and MSC Group, 8. Between now and 2028, 54 ocean-going cruise ships are set to debut. What’s interesting is that diverse sizes and distinctive ship characteristics are presenting a wide range of options and creating new categories of vessels.  After years seeing lines focus so much on ship features many now opt for luxury or delivery of guest experiences over features.  In branding I am seeing more focus on what is known as above the line thinking where emotional rewards outweigh features and functions on board.  This focus will start to translate into the seamless transition for ship to shore and define new brand loyalty based on the total emotional rewards of selecting brands. 

More Ships Means Fewer Parking Spaces. When you consider the growth ahead, the future is going to call for a different way to provide berths for the cruise industry. That’s why we created OceanLiner. It’s the industry’s first floating entertainment pier that offers an exclusive and imaginative retreat for cruise ship guests. It features a floating pool and beach club, a globally-branded entertainment venue, an excursions dock, and an open-air gondola for exploring the ports landside destination. In the evening, it transforms into a vibrant iconic local night spot with live music, dancing, and drinks. It is designed and built using eco-friendly materials and construction methods to minimize the need for dredging and its impact on the environment, and natural features like manmade coral reefs and underwater rock formations that foster a foundation for marine life to thrive. 

The floating dock approach, a common solution in Alaska, is suitable for deep water berthing worldwide. The OceanLiner™ system is environmentally friendly as it can be positioned without the need for dredging or ocean floor protection. It has cluster piles for mooring and is modularly expandable. The system typically includes two mega cruise ship berths, a pier for smaller luxury vessels, and a pontoon for mega yachts. It can also be integrated into an island ferry system. The complex is located to minimize the need for dredging and seafloor scouring protection and is designed to be at the ideal height for disembarkations. A dedicated boutique berth can be tailored for smaller ships and new yacht classes like Ritz Carlton. 

Sustainability initiatives will continue to evolve. Innovative environmental initiatives and technologies will be pervasive in the cruise industry with its commitment to get to net-zero emissions by 2050. We will continue to see programs developed for strong eco-protection. One example is what MSC does on its cruises. On a recent cruise to the western Caribbean, MSC had its MSC Foundation’s sustainability efforts front and center throughout the entire journey. Educational posters in the elevators, pamphlets in the rooms and other communication channels informed passengers that MSC places environmental conservation as one of its top priorities.  In addition, MSC Cruises is adding the Marine Conservation Centre to Ocean Cay, its private island destination.  This facility will allow biologists, coral reef experts and students an opportunity to come together to study and provide educational opportunities to guests on the importance of protecting our marine ecosystem.

Cruising will continue to grow because of the value proposition.  Cruises continue to be less costly versus similar land-based vacations. With this, cruises continue to market “experience-based” opportunities, add more shorter and longer cruises to its itineraries to attract new customers and add more single rooms to meet the need of solo travelers.   

Sailing on and inspiring others to dream!

Hugh Darley
Hugh Darley