On Site at Cruise 360: Generation Shift, Fleet Growth and More

Citing a “clear generational shift,” Kelly Craighead, president and CEO, Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), told a sold-out Cruise 360 conference trade audience that more new cruisers and younger travelers are setting sail. “Suffice it to say, the next generation of cruise is not on the horizon,” she explained in her opening session remarks to 1,250 travel advisors at Port Everglades, FL. “They’re here right now.”

In fact, the average age of a cruise guest is now 46 and the portion of cruisers under 40 years old is 36 percent. Speaking within the ballroom of the Broward County Convention Center, Craighead also revealed that nearly 10 percent of cruisers are solo travelers—most of those sailing from North America. Plus, “cruise remains a top choice for multi-generational travelers,” Craighead added, and 28 percent of those sail with three to five generations of family members. 

Overall, the public's “intent to cruise” continues to track higher than in 2019. In fact, 82 percent of all those surveyed by CLIA say that they’ll likely cruise in the future. Of those who’ve never cruised, 71 percent say they would consider cruising. Craighead cited the just-released CLIA 2024 “State of the Industry” cruise report for more details.

She also told the Cruise 360 audience that 31.7 million passengers cruised in 2023, approximately 2 million more than 2019. “So, not only have we made it back since the last decade [but] we’ve gone even beyond that,” she stressed. This year, CLIA projects that 34.7 million people will sail and it forecasts that to rise further to 37.1 million in 2025.

Crediting and thanking advisors, “it is really is because of this room that you can see the strength in the industry that we see now,” Craighead emphasized. At least 50 percent of all advisors attending Cruise 360 are either a CLIA-certified travel advisor or in training to become one.

Fleet Growth, Ship Size

Currently, 56 new CLIA-member-line cruise ships are on order for delivery by 2028, an investment of more than $38 billion. That represents 121,000 additional lower berths. In total, CLIA's cruise line members are projecting—for the first time—to operate more than 300 ships this year. That includes 14 new ships delivered in 2023 and eight new-builds arriving this year.  

Craighead shared with advisors that the fastest-growing segment in the cruise industry is expedition cruising. The number of passengers taking expedition itineraries is up 71 percent since 2019.

In breaking down the statistics of how many passengers the CLIA-member-line global fleet carries, she shared that 34 percent of ships are considered small ships (or those that carry fewer than 1,000 passengers). Some 39 percent of all cruise ships are considered mid-range by CLIA. That represents a capacity of 1,000 to 3,000 passengers. Finally, 28 percent of ships are considered large, or accommodating 3,000 or more passengers.  

That means that three-quarters of the global fleet is considered small or mid-sized. “This range in ship size and the corresponding experience helps demonstrate that there truly is a cruise for everyone," she said. That coupled with a robust order book of new ships provides an opportunity for advisors to grow their business. Craighead said that CLIA is counting on them to sell these new ships.

Visit Lauderdale and Port Everglades

Stacy Ritter, president and CEO, Visit Lauderdale, the official destination marketing and tourism promotion organization for South Florida's Broward County, spoke about “the remarkable success of the cruising industry within the past year.” She explained to the audience that “what truly sets us apart is the dynamic synergy between the destination and our magnificent Port Everglades, one of the busiest cruise ports in the world.”

Describing Greater Fort Lauderdale as “a hub for global connectivity—attracting visitors from all over the world,” Ritter also spoke briefly about the trade-focused Lauderdale Loyalist program and its newly launched mobile VIP pass; the latter provides special partner promotions after advisors complete an online training session.

This year more than 3.7 million cruise guests will use Port Everglades and next year, the port expects to break its own record of more than 4 million passengers, according to Glenn Wiltshire, acting director, Port Everglades. Ritter said the port supports almost 10,000 local direct jobs, and Wiltshire added, “Our commitment to excellence is not just a statement but a reality validated by extensive research.”

He pointed to a recent study of 7,000 travelers who’ve sailed from Port Everglades. At least 94 percent cited the ease of sailing to and from Port Everglades as "excellent" or "good." Wiltshire noted that a key aspect of delivering service to cruise guests lies in “the professionalism and hospitality of our porters—that first interaction with cruisers when they arrive.” All porters at Port Everglades recently completed an interactive hospitality training session.

Glenn Wiltshire, acting port director, Port Everglades, addresses the 2024 Cruise 360 audience.
Glenn Wiltshire, acting port director, Port Everglades, was one local South Florida official speaking at Cruise 360's opening general session.  (Photo by Susan J. Young)

In terms of highlights this year, Wiltshire mentioned Disney Cruise Line tapping Port Everglades as its second year-round Florida homeport. In addition, “we completed a renovation of Cruise Terminal 4,” he said. This summer's line-up includes Celebrity Beyond, Celebrity Reflection, Disney Magic, Enchanted Princess and Royal Caribbean’s Freedom of the Seas, as well as Balaeria’s ferry to Bimini and Freeport in the Bahamas.

Wiltshire also said the new LNG-powered Sun Princess will begin homeporting at Port Everglades, starting in October 2024. Silversea's Silver Ray will sail in this year, too, and Crystal Cruises’ newly refurbished Crystal Serenity is expected this coming winter season.

On the horizon, starting in fall 2025, Port Everglades will be the home for Celebrity Cruises’ latest Edge-class ship, Celebrity Xcel, and Princess Cruises will bring the new Star Princess to the port, as well. “We can hardly wait to see what these cruise lines come up with next,” Wiltshire told the advisors. "Looking ahead, the future of Port Everglades is exceptionally bright.”

Mass Tourism and Sustainability

Advisors learned that cruise industry growth is presenting challenges, too. Most notably, Craighead mentioned the perceptions of mass tourism and environmental concerns. As she had said at Seatrade Cruise Global the previous week, CLIA has the framework to address those challenges. “We speak with one voice and we’re working strategically [with ports and governments] throughout the world to show how cruise tourism is really managed tourism, and it’s becoming one of the most responsible ways to see the world,” she emphasized.

From CLIA's organizational standpoint, “our crucial objectives are to protect and promote the industry’s license to operate responsibly, while at the same time maximizing opportunities for businesses, for communities and for people to really connect," she told advisors. Simultaneously, CLIA is working to increase the industry’s focus and progress on sustainability. 

The reality is that each new ship entering the cruise marketplace has approximately 20 percent more efficiency than others that came before. So, Craighead said more efficient propulsion systems, better energy management and new technologies are all helping bring cruise lines closer to their sustainability goals. Plus, the industry has indicated its flexibility in using low-greenhouse-gas or no-greenhouse-gas fuels as soon as they become available.

Last week at Seatrade, CLIA released its annual report, “Charting the Future of Sustainable Cruise Travel,” now online at www.cruising.org. “It’s a wonderful resource to use with your network,” Craighead told the advisors. “Equip yourself and your customers on how the industry is growing responsibly.”

Sold-Out Conference

In his remarks on Wednesday, Charles Sylvia, CLIA’s vice president, industry and trade relations, explained that the Cruise 360 conference was “sold out” and “hundreds of people on the waiting list are wishing they could be here with all of us.” Then, he made an analogy using “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.”

“What makes Willy Wonka a beloved figure is how he surprised and delighted his guests,” Sylvia told the trade audience. “My point is that Willie left his guests with experiences they’d never forget.” That’s what advisors also seek for their clients, he said. So, as Cruise 360 continues throughout this week, Sylvia emphasized that the trade conference was designed to spark advisors’ imaginations on ways “to make yourself and your unique value memorable to clients.” 

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