Christine Duffy’s first year as the new Cruise Lines International Association president has certainly been eventful.
World Cruise Industry Review: In the short term, the Costa Concordia disaster does not appear to have had a major effect on bookings, but what will the longer-term legacy be?
Christine Duffy: The Concordia incident was tragic and the entire industry has united in expressing its heartfelt condolences to everyone impacted. But, it was an extraordinary event and cruising remains one of the safest vacation choices available. Nevertheless, immediately following the incident, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), on behalf of the global cruise industry, launched a Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review in order to provide a comprehensive assessment of the critical human factors and operational aspects of marine safety.
As best practices are identified, they are being shared among CLIA members and any appropriate recommendations will be shared with the global maritime community via the International Maritime Organization. We will learn from this event, and apply all best practices to ensure that cruise holidays remain among the safest, best valued and most desired leisure vacation options.
What is the role of CLIA in helping to manage and address any changes that might arise?
On behalf of the industry, CLIA maintains a high profile in Washington DC, engaging with lawmakers, regulators and others to ensure that the interests of the industry are protected and not misrepresented. Rather than merely react, wherever possible we strive to lead and guide in finding solutions to issues of concern. Working with our affiliated cruise industry associations, we engage in similar activities in other parts of the world.
How have recent events affected priorities within the organisation?
Obviously, the industry response to the Concordia incident - continuing to ensure the safety of our guests - is our top priority. But the ongoing promotion of the concept of cruise holidays remains very important, especially as the industry moves into new markets.
A top priority for CLIA is taking a strong leadership role in representing the cruise industry's interests, working with government, advocacy groups and international organisations to ensure that the industry's importance and value is fully appreciated.
We also need to continue to demonstrate that the industry can operate in ways that benefit the cruise lines and the public. Another priority is to continue the industry's leadership role in finding innovative solutions to issues such as energy conservation, waste management and environmental stewardship.
Having been in the role for just over 12 months, how would you define the first year of your presidency?
The last few years have not been easy for anyone in the travel industry, but it has been fascinating and inspiring to be a part of the cruise segment that navigated through these challenges, and that is seeking innovative solutions rather than resisting change.
It is my sense that the cruise industry is at a point of redefinition. It has grown tremendously, it has become a truly global business, and there is enormous opportunity for further growth and geographic expansion.
This comes with new responsibilities and challenges. We have to re-examine how we engage with the rest of the world and, to some extent, how we do business.
Were you surprised that cruise performance remained relatively bullish during the downturn?
First, the industry was able to respond to the economic downturn quickly and effectively through attractive incentives, thereby maintaining full occupancies throughout the recession.
Second, the industry demonstrated its long-term commitment to growth through the continued arrival of exciting new ships, the development of new itineraries, and the introduction of innovative shipboard experiences.
These factors play into the most important aspect of this: the cruise industry demonstrated to the public that a cruise holiday represents great value, and delivers on experience and customer satisfaction.
To what extent has the downturn changed the way in which the cruise industry positions and markets itself?
The short-term impact of the downturn was somewhat lower revenues for cruise lines due to temporary incentives and pricing. This is correcting itself as economic conditions improve. The dominant theme in cruise industry marketing is market penetration.
Individual cruise lines may compete with one another, but all are focused on 'growing the pie'.
Even in the most mature cruise market - the US -penetration is less than 20%. In Europe, the market penetration is under 10% and in the rest of the world it is even lower than that.
The effort to attract first-time cruisers, while continuing to satisfy the expectations of experienced cruisers, will be the continuing focal point of industry efforts.
Have we seen new demographics giving cruise holidays serious consideration?
According to our surveys of cruise lines and our member travel agents, who sell more than two thirds of all cruises in North America, the fastest growing market segments include family and multigenerational family groups, social groups, honeymooners, young travellers, and even corporate groups, all without diminishing more traditional demographics, including seniors.
Among types of cruises that contribute to the diversity of passenger demographics is the rapid growth of river cruising, which tends to attract experienced travellers, including 'large ship' cruisers, while also attracting more and more families and younger travellers.
Regionally, are there specific growth markets that particularly excite you?
In the last five years or so, Europe has experienced tremendous growth and interest in cruising, but there has also been significant interest in South America, Asia, the South Pacific region and the Middle East.
In North America there has been increased interest in Canada/New England itineraries, as well as Alaska and even river cruising.
Increasingly, the cruise industry is all about new relationships and partners. This is particularly true as it continues to expand globally, and attract the attention of governments and advocacy groups around the world.
What do you see as being the highlights and opportunities for the industry over the year ahead?
The cruise industry continues to grow through the introduction of new ships and innovative cruise experiences.
In 2012, 14 ships of all sizes and purposes will join the CLIA fleet. Cruise lines will continue to broaden their geographic reach with itineraries throughout the world, as well as by adding more domestic ports of embarkation, making cruising more accessible to millions of people.
Most importantly, the industry continues to do an excellent job in providing high value for money spent across all price categories of cruising.
This consistently ranks at the top of consumers' perceptions of the industry and reflects not simply price, but also the entirety of the cruise experience: wide-ranging choice of activities and destinations, comfort, convenience, service and the pleasure of enjoyable travel from country to country. These are all qualities that continue to drive the success of the industry.
What will be your main message to attendees at this year's Cruise Shipping Miami?
Events such as Cruise Shipping Miami are more important than ever because the cruise industry is an extensive and complex network of businesses and organisations that have individual agendas and goals, while being intricately dependent on one another.
As the industry has grown in size and geographic reach, opportunities to come together to discuss major issues confronting us become essential. This is all the more true because as the industry has grown so has the scrutiny of it by governments, regulators and advocacy groups. It is crucial that all the elements of cruising work together to protect and further the interests of the industry.