WITH THE NATION'S ATTENTION FOCUSED ON THE RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE, the writers' strike in Hollywood and steroids in baseball, it's understandable—as unreal as it sounds—that many people might put the cruise industry on the back burner.
Fear not, however, because over this past year I have eschewed all mention of anything non-cruise-related so you, the reader, can have the utmost relevant cruise information. (If you're wondering, yes, I do have a girlfriend.)
Anyway, every time I flip on the TV around this time of the year, or open up a magazine (purely for cruise news, mind you), I stumble across year-in-review chatter recapping the year that just ended.
Well, why not do the same for the cruise industry? It beats the best of Jerry Springer 2007, right? Moving from biggest to big, here's a look back at top cruise industry news from 2007.
Without a doubt it has to be Europe. Everywhere you turned, travel agents and suppliers alike compared Europe to the Holy Grail. Weak dollar this, soft Caribbean that, turned Europe into the cruising hotbed.
Many lines took to redeploying ships to the region, especially the Mediterranean, where a long summer, idyllic destinations and warm weather translated into a revenue windfall for cruise operators. Attention on the European market isn't waning, either. Carnival—as American as apple pie—will have two ships plying European waters in 2008, while competitor Royal Caribbean ups the ante with a record seven ships sailing there.
Unless you live under a rock, or just don't read the inside pages of The Wall Street Journal, you've heard about the abundant acquisitions that took place in the cruise industry in 2007. It seemed like every day a cruise line was getting snatched up.
The most intriguing part was that a non-cruise player made the loudest noise. In this case, the big spender was a private equity firm, Apollo Management, which bought Oceania and Regent Seven Seas and a stake in Norwegian (see this issue's cover story).
Royal Caribbean, one of cruising's top dogs, didn't stand pat. It not only acquired Spain-based Pullmantur and entered a joint venture with the German brand TUI but also launched its own new brand under the Celebrity Cruises banner called Azamara, which will serve the "deluxe" market.
Among the many subplots in 2007 was the increase in onboard enrichment programs that touch on a variety of themes, which are brought to life through activities and lectures. Every line, from mainstream to luxury, built up their programs to satisfy almost every interest.
One of the most popular themes developed was wellness (a prevalent topic not just on cruise ships but throughout today's culture). Whether through yoga sessions, cooking classes, health seminars or even onboard restaurants dedicated to healthy eating, the cruise lines made it a point to fill their ships with health-conscious elements.
Soon to Be Big?
While Carnac the Magnificent I am not, what good is rewinding without giving a glimpse of what is to come?
Europe will remain an integral part of cruise lines' focus, but the Caribbean (sigh of relief) looks to be getting back on its feet after a downtrodden year—just ask the cruise analysts who weigh in on the subject each week. Bankers, like journalists, always speak the truth, don't they?
Also look for the cruise industry to continue to aid travel agents by supplying better technology and online products. This means tools that are easy and quick to use so agents can get back to the real business of 2008: booking more cruises. Now that's a prediction everyone hopes will come true.