FORT LAUDERDALE -- While you can't always trust that cruise company executives will be 100% honest about the state of their business, travel agents are generally a good barometer of how things are going in the cruise industry.
And based on the mood at CLIA's fourth annual Cruise3sixty conference here, things could be much worse.
The event kicked off April 3, the same day the government announced that the U.S. lost 663,000 jobs in March.
But during the morning session that day, the 2,000 agents in attendance were asked questions they could answer via a keypad on the table, offering immediate results. Optimism prevailed.
"What's your 'cruise sales confidence index' today?" was the first question. Nearly half of the attendees, 47.5%, said, "Good, I am still ahead of last year and pretty optimistic."
This was the second most positive answer they could give out of five. More cautious were the 23.3% who said they were "holding [their] own but having to work a lot harder," but the third most popular response was actually the most positive they could offer: 23.2% replied, "Great, I may help with the government stimulus plan."
To the next question, asking how much the leisure travel business would grow over the next eight months, 85.8% of the agents predicted it would "expand moderately."
And finally, when asked what their greatest concern for the future was, the agents did not pick options such as "people taking fewer leisure trips" or "supplier-agent relationships becoming less important," or even "increased difficulty earning a living as a travel agent."
Instead, the most popular answer -- by a landslide of 88.8% -- was:
"There will always be challenges, but I remain optimistic."