FORT LAUDERDALE — Reach out to cruise clients who haven't made a commitment yet, because there's pent-up demand in the marketplace, cruise line executives told agents Friday during a panel discussion at CLIA's Cruise3sixty conference here.
"There's so much value out there," said Bob Lepisto, president of SeaDream Yacht Club. "People's [investment] portfolios are moving in the right direction, the economy is moving in the right direction. There is a lot of pent-up demand."
Moderated by CLIA President and CEO Christine Duffy, the panel also featured Rick Sasso, president of MSC Cruises USA; Dan Hanrahan, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises; and Rudi Schreiner, president and CEO of AmaWaterways.
"When you look back to how robust things were in November and December, we were all gearing up for a great 2012," Sasso said. "There was a hiccup after Jan. 13 [when the Costa Concordia was wrecked in Italy], but the market returned quickly.
"For most of you in this room, it should be back to business as usual," Sasso told the 1,200 cruise retailers attending the conference. The European landscape "is still a little soft," he added, "but [North America] is still the dominant market in cruising."
Hanrahan said that consumer research by Celebrity after the Concordia disaster found that "the level of cruise rejections didn't change."
"People saw it as an isolated incident — it didn't change the propensity to cruise," Hanrahan said. "As long as we all work together, we can tap into that pent-up demand."
Schreiner said that river cruise bookings remain extremely strong.
"I've never seen a season as full as this year, and as early in the year," he said. "Our summer was sold out months ago."
The executives also had high praise for the travel agent distribution channel. Duffy, noting that the executive panel at Cruise Shipping Miami, held in March, had supportive words for the trade, asked the Cruise3sixty panelists for their thoughts on the future of the travel agent.
Each one voiced continued commitment to the agent channel, and Sasso told the audience that "cruise executives are successful because of you."
"You will always be the dominant place where sales take place," Sasso declared.
The CLIA conference is being held at the Broward County Convention Center and continues until Sunday. For cruise news and updates, follow Donna Tunney on Twitter @dttravelweekly.