The impact of China, further developing guest experiences with technology, and cruise ship size were the major topics debated by the bosses of Carnival Corp, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, MSC Cruises and Royal Caribbean at Seatrade Cruise Global’s state of the industry keynote opening session.
Carnival Corp chief executive Arnold Donald said of China “It is going well for us… we are very excited that we have a joint venture with CSSC. We have a great relationship with them and are very much looking forward to our first Chinese-branded cruise company.”
He said the first cruise ships for this joint venture were likely to be launched in 2020, while its first ships to be built in a Chinese yard would be launched in 2023. “That will be the catalyst,” he said.
Asked about whether Chinese travellers had different demands, he said “Really, like any other traveller, they want to experience a different culture”.
While Royal Caribbean Cruises chief executive Richard Fain said it was only very recently that Chinese people has “gone after kind of vacation we are used to, there has been an explosion of that and it is one of the fastest growing of our markets and one of the most successful”.
Also highlighted was the importance of using technology to enhance guest experience. Mr Donald said “People want personalised, customised experiences everywhere, including travel. If you can offer this, that is ultimate, and technology enables us to do that.”
Questioned about whether passengers had data sharing concerns, he said of Carnival Corp’s digital platform Ocean Medallion “Every crew member knows everything about you from it. I had a concern as I didn’t think everyone would sign up for this. But we have just had over 10,000 people on our Ocean Medallion-class ships and we had only seven people say no thanks. I would have thought it would be much higher.”
Elsewhere, MSC has just launched the first digital cabin assistant within the cruise sector, which uses artificial intelligence, called Zoe. She can speak seven languages, to be increased to 10, answers questions and engages with customers so they do not have to go to the concierge, explained MSC Cruises chief executive Pierfrancesco Vago.
The expansion of the cruise industry with new entrants was also under the spotlight. Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings executive Frank Del Rio said “new entrants keep us on our toes – competition is a wonderful thing for us and consumers. I welcome new competitors… We invest hundreds if not billions of dollars in new ships and are now starting to invest billions in renovating legacy fleets.”
Mr Fain added that there was no “one size fits all” in terms of ship size and added “one of the nice things about our industry is that we have not homogenised. We have remained highly differentiated and new players help too, the fact they are entering gives credibility to our industry and gives something for everybody.”
Asked about what might be expected of the cruise ship industry in 10 years’ time, Mr Donald said “The industry is very diversified – some want very large ships, some luxury ships… we are very constrained from a capacity stand point, there are only so many shipyards so the fastest the industry can grow in a year is about 7%.”