Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

The Cruise Lines International Association put a positive spin on the numbers it forecasted for the industry in 2009, but it is worth noting that CLIA's job is to put a positive spin on the cruise industry in general.

Terry Dale, CLIA's president and CEO, said that the North American cruise industry was well positioned to take on the global economic challenges of 2009 due to the industry's investment in new ships -- $4.8 billion alone for 14 ships in 2009 -- as well as in ports and destinations.

"There is no doubt that 2009 represents an uncertain environment, not only for CLIA members but for all industries and consumers alike," Dale said in a statement. "However, CLIA members are confident that they will weather the challenges and emerge stronger than ever, as they have before."

On Jan. 14, the same day that CLIA came out with its numbers, the research group Compete Inc. said that its most recent data show that there has been a sharp decline in consumer interest in cruising.

"Looking at July 2009 departures, what began as a slight demand shortfall has evolved into a considerable gap," wrote Compete analyst Gregory Saks.

"As these departures draw closer, significant pressure will be on cruise line executives to fill their ships," Saks said. "Cruise demand is now 4.3% lower than where it should be at this stage."

Saks wrote that although cruising has traditionally been a popular and stable vacation activity, a sliding economy is having a negative impact on demand.

Compete is not unbiased either. The group sells cruise lines a metric called Cruise Demand Measurement, which it says should help lines "be able to act more quickly with better insights into the consumer than they have ever had before."

But it's hard to know whose forecasts are more credible. With the market wavering and unemployment rising -- but also a new administration being sworn in Jan. 20 that promises a national stimulus plan -- it is a tough time to try to measure the cruise industry's current health, much less predict its short-term prospects.


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