Friday, January 22, 2010

Cruise Industry Bucking the Recession

The Montreal Gazette

Despite the credit crunch, rising unemployment and swine flu, the cruise industry had a banner year in 2009 and the trend is expected to continue this year as younger travelers take to the high seas.

More than 13 million people took a cruise, an increase of 3.3. percent from the previous year, and the number is expected to hit 14.3 million in 2010.

"We are not recession proof but we are recession resistant," Richard Sasso, the chairman of the marketing committee of of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and the president and CEO of MSC Cruises USA, told a news conference.

"We keep reinventing in the industry."

CLIA, which represents 25 members ranging from riverboats carrying less than 100 passengers to a supership that can accommodate more than 5,400 guests, predicts demand will remain high in the United States and increase overseas.

Nearly 24 percent of cruise guests were from abroad and Sasso believes that number will rise as cruising becomes more popular with European consumers.

There is also an untapped market in the United States where only a fraction of the population has taken a cruise.

"Eighty percent of the people (in the US) haven’t tried us," said Sasso.

The Mediterranean, Caribbean, Mexico and Alaska cruises are still the most popular, but more people are opting for river cruises, according to Terry Dale, the president and CEO of CLIA.

Couples are the biggest demographic group traveling on the high seas but baby boomers, repeat cruisers and multi-generational bookings are seen as the biggest growth areas.

"Multi-generational travel will continue to be a strong part of our foundation in 2010," he explained.

And like most other industries, cruise lines are using Facebook and Twitter to advertise their services.

"It is an integral part of how we communicate with our customers," said Dale, adding that the average age of a cruise passenger has dropped to about 47.

He attributed the decrease, which is about 10 years younger than a decade or more ago, to an increase in family cruises and the popularity of themed cruises based around music, wine and food.