To answer the question, in a word, posed on the cover: No! While the cruise market has undoubtedly experienced several painful, and often costly, growing pains of late, it is abundantly clear that the dynamics of the market have changed from when the “boom” began in the early to mid 1990s. While a record amount of tonnage has and continues to enter the workforce and operators are having a difficult time filling them, the cruise industry is truly in its toddler stage, with plenty of growth opportunities domestically and particularly abroad.
Granted, industry watchers and/or investors are aghast at the low valuations of cruise companies, as well as the general financial direction, given Carnival (CCL)
’s and Royal Caribbean
’s profit warnings of last month. Similarly, a string of embarrassing and/or criminal incidents — including pollution, fire and onboard safety incidents — have marred an industry that was otherwise enjoying a spotless record on most counts. However, it is wise to believe in the general strength of cruise concept as a whole, and view current events as a blip on a long and healthy history. Also, through all of the dubious incidents, it is encouraging to watch the industry’s response, which has more often than not been rapid and decisive, with strong support from all walks of the maritime industry.
A perfect example of the industry striving for higher ideals is the introduction in the U.K. late last month of Celebrity’s new Millennium cruise ship — the first ever with gas turbines as the main propulsion source. As cruise companies are consistently taken to task to protect the precious environs within which they make their profits, the selection of clean propulsion sources will be essential in ensuring future profitability. While the gas turbine trend is gaining steam (literally), it is foolhardy to believe that diesel power will be replaced anytime soon as the prime mover of cruise ships. In fact, Wärtsilä NSD, a diesel engine supplier to the cruise market, is busily working with Carnival on the development and deployment of the smokeless diesel engine. These efforts, combined with ever tightening IMO and EPA rules regarding marine engine emissions, will help ensure the diesel’s place in the cruise industry for some time to come.
Industry support will be essential, particularly in the creation of appealing and functional designs. For example, The Wall Street Journal last month reported on a cruise industry legal battle lost with the Federal Appeals Court, which mandates that all cruise ships — whether registered in the U.S. or abroad, must accommodate disabled travelers under the Americans with Disabilities Act. This will be a particular challenger for cruise lines, who place an absolute premium on space.
Read the mid-year cruise report, which begins with Associate Editor Regina Ciardiello’s experience in Southampton, U.K. aboard the new Millennium prior to its first cruise for paying customers.