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Cruise industry hopes for calm seas

By SUZETTE LABOY Associated Press

Publication: The Day

Published March 14. 2013 4:00AM
Lynne Sladky/AP Photo
Mariachi musicians perform at a booth aiming to lure cruise ships to make port calls in Mexico at the 29th annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference in Miami Beach, Fla.
Misfortunes put new pressure on lines

Miami Beach, Fla. - Carnival Cruise Lines' highest priority is to look at "learnings and potential changes" that can be made in the wake of the Triumph cruise ship that was stranded at sea a month ago, the company's CEO and president Gerry Cahill said Tuesday at the 29th annual Cruise Shipping Miami conference.

"I can assure you that since this fire occurred, it's been the No. 1 priority for both Carnival Cruise Lines and Carnival Corp.," Cahill said.

Over 4,000 people were on the Carnival Triumph when an engine room fire knocked out its primary power source on Feb. 10, leaving the crippled ship adrift. Carnival Cruise Lines, part of Miami-based Carnival Corp., owns both the Triumph and the Costa Concordia, which ran aground off the coast of Italy a year ago, killing 32 people. Carnival also owns the Splendor, which was stranded at sea for several days in 2010 after a fire.

Cahill was the first of seven cruise line executives who addressed the industry's concerns during a "State of the Industry" session at the conference. He said the company was conducting a comprehensive review of the entire fleet that would "take some time to complete." The review is focusing on prevention, detection and suppression of fires as well as engine room redundancies, additional hotel facilities that may be provided in case of another fire on a large ship and how to utilize power from an emergency generator.

Cahill said experts from fire safety officials to naval architects and marine engineers in several U.S. locations and in Italy are assisting in the review.

"You can rest assured, it's our highest priority. We will come up with some solutions that we can implement across our fleet," he said.

Cahill spoke as part of a panel and was not available for questions after. Carnival declined a request for an interview with him.

Future trends and globalization were also topics discussed by the cruise executives, who focused on looking east to China.

"Chinese customers love their cruises just like everybody else does," said Adam Goldstein, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International. "The people in the market have the same desires to see the world that everybody else has and now have the ability to do that."

The biggest opportunity for cruise lines, he added, is the millions of people who "are entering the middle class" in different parts of Asia.

The Caribbean is still a top destination for travelers, but industry experts say that may soon change with major ports across Asia and Europe serving as top cruise destinations.

"I'm not sure that the Caribbean destinations truly appreciate the nature of this competition on a global basis and how much else is happening in the world that is claiming attention of potential cruisers," Goldstein said. "That's the competitive set and the Caribbean and other regions need to get at some level responsive to that."

Industry watchers agree, saying the Chinese traveler will change the way we see cruising today.

"I think it's still five years away, 10 years away before the Chinese really start to love to cruise," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of the CruiseCritic.com website.

She noted that preferences will differ: "It's exciting but also scary because because they love casinos but don't want long, gourmet dinners," a contrast with Western cruisers. Chinese travelers are showing an interest in short shore excursions, she said, but they are not joining sunbathers on the sun deck, "which is great for people who can't get sun deck chairs on prime time."

The conference began on Monday and runs through today. It's expected to attract more than 10,000 people in the industry.

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