Cruise Industry Forges Ahead as Vacationers Sail the High Seas Again

Cruise Industry Forges Ahead as Vacationers Sail the High Seas Again

Jason Liberty, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, left, and Arnie Weissmann, editor of Travel Weekly. (Photo by Theresa Norton)

The cruise industry is looking ahead with optimism – not looking back – now that ships are once again carrying passengers the world over.

That was the message heard from cruise line, resort company and travel advisor organizations during the Nov. 3 general session at CruiseWorld, Northstar Travel Group’s conference and trade show in Fort Lauderdale.

The luncheon was sponsored by Royal Caribbean Group and featured its three main cruise brands – Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Silversea Cruises.

Jason Liberty, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, took to the stage and agreed that his company was quite optimistic for the fourth quarter and going into 2023. The company had just released better-than-expected third-quarter results earlier in the day.

“I pretty much have dropped the Iron Curtain on the past,” he said in a conversation with Arnie Weissmann, editor-in-chief of Travel Weekly. “We are back to normal; our business is back to normal. Sure, we’d like a couple more load factor points, but we sailed at 96 percent load factor in Q3 and we’re going to be in a similar position in Q4. I’m very excited just as an organization and us as an industry to spend our energy not on survival but on delivering the best vacations in the world.”

Also speaking was Barbara Muckermann, chief commercial officer of Silversea Cruises, a surprise guest introduced by Katina Athanasiou, senior vice president-sales for Silversea.

Muckermann said, for today’s luxury consumers, it’s more about experiences rather than a buying a Hermès Birkin or Chanel handbag. “Don’t focus on the product, focus on the experiences,” she recommended, such as a polar plunge during an Antarctic voyage. Memories like that don’t fade.

Another session featured five executives who were asked to make their perfect pitch to different types of family clients. The “Pitch Perfect MultiGen Panel” was moderated by Nolan Flynn, marketing and operations manager, LaMacchia Travel, and Brian Major, managing editor-digital publications and guides/Caribbean for TravelPulse.com and AGENTatHOME

For example, for a family who says “money is no object” – as more may be inclined to do for their first post-pandemic travel – Andrea Wright of Playa Hotels & Resorts, suggested the all-inclusive Hyatt Ziva Cap Cana. It has a waterpark with slides and a lazy river, Camp Hyatt, 12 restaurants, swim-up bar in an infinity pool and a two-story Zen Spa.

Marilyn Cairo, of Karisma Hotels & Resorts, suggested Nickelodeon Riviera Maya, which has a pineapple villa similar to the one that SpongeBob SquarePants lives in, butlers, water park, all ocean-view suites – some with private pools on balconies – and character meet-and-greets with the SpongeBob characters, PAW Patrol, Dora the Explorer and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Isabelle Bujold of Club Med suggested one of their resorts in the French or Italian Alps, but also Club Med’s Cefalù Resort in Sicily, nestled on rugged cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean and close to the beautiful village of Cefalù.

Raul Villagran of Sandos Hotels & Resorts recommended the Sandos Finisterra Los Cabos, which is near the town and marina and also is “front and center” to the famous rock arch formation at Land’s End.

And Francis Riley, representing Margaritaville at Sea, quipped: “If money is no object, charter the entire ship!”

Attendees also heard from Rob Borden, senior vice president-commercial and cruise at Uplift Inc., a travel-focused company that lets people buy now and pay later with monthly installment payments. Plus, Uplift takes responsibility for payment once it is booked. From the travel agent perspective, “it’s paid in full at the time of booking,” Borden said.

Uplift is available with some purchases through World Travel Holdings companies that sell direct to consumers and through travel advisors with Dream Vacations and CruiseOne.

Rosemarie Reed, senior vice president of marketing for World Travel Holdings, said the average order with Uplift is over $5,000 and about 10 percent higher on average.

“People dream bigger when they know they can pay over time,” Reed said.

Royal Caribbean International President and CEO Michael Bayley discussed the record-breaking bookings when sales opened for Icon of the Seas with Vicki Freed, senior vice president-sales and trade support & service, for Royal Caribbean International.

Cruise Industry Forges Ahead as Vacationers Sail the High Seas Again

Vicki Freed and Michael Bayley of Royal Caribbean International. (Photo by Theresa Norton)

“We’ve worked on this ship for five years, and for us this is the culmination of our 50 years trying to be the absolute best,” he said. The record bookings “blew our expectations right out the window.”

“Travel advisors are integral partners of Royal Caribbean, and I don’t see that every changing,” Bayley said.

Also highlighted was the Black Travel Advisory Board created by Northstar Travel Group in summer 2020, shortly after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Bob Sullivan, president of Northstar Travel Group, said Northstar wanted to take positive action to increase diversity in the travel industry and his own company. According to its mission statement, the board is “devoted to the equitable representation of minority individuals within the travel industry, with an impetus to recruit more Black speakers, Black attendees, and to launch new programs and initiatives that will make a positive difference in the travel industry.”

Cruise Industry Forges Ahead as Vacationers Sail the High Seas Again

Some of the members of the Black Travel Advisory Board created by Northstar Travel Group in summer 2020. (Photo by Theresa Norton)

Five members of the board shared their thoughts, such as how they need to see more people of color in cruise line marketing material as well as in hiring. The board members present were Valerie Dorsey, owner of a Cruise Planners franchise; Stephen Scott, CEO and founder of Travel Hub 365; Laurence Pinckney, CEO of Zenbiz Travel; Cory Wallace, national account manager for Celebrity Cruises; Denella Ri’chard, executive TV producer of “Traveling with Denella.”

The day also included TW Talks, light-hearted presentations with serious messages from Michelle Fee, CEO and founder of Cruise Planners, and Jenn Lee, vice president-trade engagement and support for Travel Planners International.

Cruise Industry Forges Ahead as Vacationers Sail the High Seas Again

Vicki Freed and Dondra Ritzenthaler’s presentation on nurturing and caring for plants — and clients. (Photo by Theresa Norton)

The session concluded with an amusing presentation from Vicki Freed and Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president, sales and trade support & service, at Celebrity Cruises.

Their message, inspired by gardening, was that advisors need to nurture clients just as plants need to be watered and cared for.

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