I cannot imagine a more exciting opportunity than to serve as president of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and be a part of this truly remarkable industry. What began with the visionary owners of a handful of converted ocean liners in the 1970s transformed the expectations of millions with an entirely new holiday concept.

Through imagination, innovation, adept use of cutting-edge technology to build new ships, and sound, effective business management, the cruise industry has demonstrated a record of growth and success that is the envy of the international business world. As we embark on a new era of cruising – the global expansion of cruise businesses, operations, itineraries and passenger sourcing – I am thrilled to be a part of the adventure.

Exceeding expectations

Since 1980, the North American cruise industry has experienced an average annual passenger growth of 7.7%. Even during the recent recession, our members sailed at an average occupancy rate of 103% and exceeded total passenger projections.

“In 2010, 12 ships representing an investment of $5.9bn joined the Cruise Lines International Association fleet.”

In 2010, CLIA member lines carried 15 million passengers. Based on current conditions and tracking, we forecast 16 million for 2011. And, we estimate that less than 20% of American adults have taken a cruise, meaning that even in North America, where modern cruising was born, there is a huge untapped market of potential cruisers. Imagine the size of the market throughout the rest of the world.

There are many reasons for cruising’s success, but two stand out. The first is value: cruise lines across all price categories have been able to offer outstanding value for money.

This is less a result of marketing than of consumer perceptions. In every CLIA survey of travel agents and consumers, we are told that cruising is perceived as the best value and the number one choice compared with other types of holidays.

But value is not an abstract concept; it is created by the quality and diversity of a fresh product offering to the consumer. The cruise industry’s other reason for success is that it is an industry invested in growth and innovation. In the last ten years, CLIA lines introduced over 100 new ships. In 2010, 12 ships of all sizes representing an investment of $5.9bn joined the fleet, with 15 ships from ten lines, representing an additional $4.6bn, to be launched in 2011.

In all, 22 new vessels will join the CLIA fleet in 2011-12. This, of course, does not include new ships built for non-CLIA members, including foreign-based lines established by CLIA members. Worldwide, a conservative estimate of a cruise fleet of 300 vessels by 2012 is reasonable.

Cruise with confidence

CLIA member lines have reasons to invest confidently in new ships and next-generation cruise experiences. They have proven their ability to expand their customer base. In 1970, they carried 500,000 passengers, just over 3% of the total for 2010. They have also demonstrated exceptional success in filling ships, whatever the total capacity. Average occupancies have consistently been over 100% year after year. But most significant for the near future are recent figures for foreign-sourced passengers sailing on CLIA lines.

“Even during the recession, CLIA members sailed at an average occupancy rate of 103%.”

In 2010, 26% of CLIA passengers were sourced outside North America: the forecast for 2011 is 27%. The increase in these cruisers has been dramatic, largely due to the cruise boom in Europe and also because of other foreign markets, including Australia, Asia and the Middle East. There is every indication that the trend will continue because cruise lines are committed to international expansion.

As I join this extraordinary industry, this is what excites me: what began as a new holiday concept in North America – one largely for North Americans and focused on the Caribbean and other close-to-home destinations – has been genuinely ‘globalised’.

In the months and years to come, North Americans, Europeans, Asians and others will have an entire planet of cruise destinations to choose from, all offering unique travel experiences and outstanding value. I am pleased and privileged to work with CLIA, its member cruise lines and the global industry to help shape this new world of cruising.