Cruise industry unprepared for Concordia fallout, says Royal's CEO

By Tom Stieghorst
2012CWFortLauderdaleFORT LAUDERDALE — The cruise industry was not ready for the pressure it came under after the Costa Concordia capsized last January, Royal Caribbean International president Adam Goldstein said on Thursday at Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld and Home Based Agent Show.

Goldstein said the result has been a joint effort to explain the industry’s safety and environmental competence to policymakers.

“The ramifications of the Concordia accident changed the responsibility of our industry in terms of how we work together, how often we work together,” he said. “As an industry … we were not prepared to deal with the type of pressure that came upon us.”

That was just one of several topics aired by four cruise line presidents during a panel forum. A full house heard panelists tackle a host of subjects ranging from the art of mixing nationalities on ships to the enforcement of dining room dress codes to the future of the belly-flop contest.

The general take on the health of the industry was optimistic.

“We’ve been through a hell of a tough year this year, and I think we’re coming out of it pretty well,” said Mark Conroy, outgoing president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

With more foreign passengers on ships, cruise lines must decide if that’s a plus or minus for U.S. guests. Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA, said his Italian-based line doesn’t hide its mix of nationalities. “What we know that the guest loves, is that they get to interact with different cultures,” he said.

At Celebrity Cruises, 90% of guests hail from English-speaking countries, said president Michael Bayley. “It’s a very comfortable environment but we have, perhaps, a slight international flair that adds to the overall experience,” he said.
_Adam Goldstein
The executives agreed that stunts like the belly-flop contest will remain a cruise staple even as ice rinks, bowling alleys and other novel activities are added to the mix. “Fun is different from one person to the next,” Conroy said.

Added Goldstein: “If our cruise director is on pool deck and he believes we can get together 2 or 3 or 400 people to have a rousing good time with a belly-flop contest, go for it.”

The panel acknowledged that formal dress codes in dining rooms are sometimes violated, but said rules sometimes have to be waived if enforcing them would cause an incident.

Panelists said that cruise-only agencies that are moving into land vacations provide agents an opportunity to retain the loyalty of customers by giving them what they want, not what the agent has to sell.

And they agreed that despite the vogue for river cruises, the large blue-water cruise lines won’t launch or acquire river operations because they are too small to add much to profits.

Conroy said the entire river cruise industry carried 250,000 passengers last year, about the same as Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas.

“It’s a small business that’s got a low barrier to entry,” he said, “and if you’re running a half-billion to a multi-billion dollar business, do you bend over to that little business to pick it up?”

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.
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