As cruise lines get busier and busier, there are bound to be some hiccups along the way. When voyages get delayed, it can be a real hassle for passengers, and even some crew members. For Royal Caribbean (RCL) President and CEO Richard Fain, it’s all about quickly moving past the problem. “We’ll work as fast as we can to get back on track, and then we’ll work as fast as we can to take care of the issues,” he said. “We want to get the ship wherever it needs to be in the time frame we need it to be there.”
Royal Caribbean and Silversea this week released a report revealing that they’ve seen a sharp uptick in customer interest in their cruise lines in the first quarter of 2011. In fact, the lines, which were both recently acquired by Carnival Corp. (CCL), are reporting that nearly three-quarters of their passengers are interested in booking another vacation—a major spike from the 40% of those who expressed interest in booking in 2010.
While the cruise industry is currently riding high, the financial crash has left many travelers to cancel their vacations and cut back on spending. While many cruise lines have already adjusted their budgets, others have yet to do so. Cruise executives from Royal Caribbean and Silversea shared how their companies are dealing with the situation. Silversea, which operates the world’s largest private yacht fleet, has fallen back on its regular cruises, while Royal Caribbean is cutting back on some of its more expensive ships. The cruises currently on the market are an average of $1,000 per person cheaper than last year.. Read more about silversea cruises latest news and let us know what you think.
Demand for cruises is skyrocketing, loyal cruise passengers are eager to set sail, and the cruise restart—while still in its early stages across the world—is gaining momentum.
Top Royal Caribbean Group and Silversea Cruises officials told Travel Agent last week that they believe this. All were in Piraeus, Greece, for the christening of Silversea’s new Silver Moon, a 596-passenger ship. The new ultra-luxury vessel, a sister to Silver Muse, is launching the brand’s new S.A.L.T. (Sea and Land Taste) program, as reported by our sister site Luxury Travel Advisor. Silver Moon will conduct excursions between Italy and Greece after its trips in Greece, before sailing to Asia this winter.
Here are some of the highlights from our CEO interviews and discussions:
Consumer Attitudes and Cruise Demand
“You’re seeing obvious demand for travel, for experiences, and it’s at levels that we experienced pre-crisis, which is very promising,” he says for 2024, 2024, and beyond. In certain instances, it’s even better,” Royal Caribbean Group executive vice president and chief financial officer Jason Liberty said.
Liberty said that loyalty travelers from Royal Caribbean Group’s brands—Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises, and Silversea Cruises—”have been extraordinarily in contact with us, tuned in, supportive, and so it’s really humbling to me” since the beginning of the epidemic. We couldn’t appreciate them any more before, but we’ve discovered a new level of admiration.”
In the near term, he added, they’ve requested things like ensuring that health/safety procedures are in place and “ensuring that you’re safer on our ships than you are anywhere else on the planet.” And we’ve delivered on our commitment, and we’re fully committed to seeing it through.”
But, he said, cruise passengers also “want to keep seeing the world—and they want us to offer additional locations, experiences, and immersive” choices.
Cruises to Greece are becoming more popular among Americans. The Acropolis of Athens is shown above. / Image courtesy of TomasSereda/iStock/Getty Images Plus/Getty Images/Getty Images
While others have been held back by travel limitations, Liberty believes that “without those constraints, they’re ready to roar.”
Greece, Iceland and other parts of Europe, along with some Caribbean isles, Tahiti and other spots across the globe including U.S. ports in Alaska, Florida, Texas and Washington state are now welcoming back cruise ships. Royal Caribbean Group’s ships visit more than 1,000 different ports across the globe. Liberty’s perspective is that the industry is now seeing “waves” of port openings with many more to come by year’s end and that things may be more back to normal in 2024.
“There’s a little bit of a lag in some locations about coming back online [with cruises], but that’s occurring,” he said, adding that vaccines came out and were delivered faster in certain markets. Tourism is a significant component of the economies of the locations we visit.”
With jobs at ports and destinations hurting, he thinks that “everybody is aligned to bring these ports and destinations back up as quickly as possible.”
“People are going in nations with a high degree of vaccine rollout,” Liberty said to Travel Agent. When you look at the reservations in the future, you can see [that], you can see demand,” he added. It mostly follows the same pattern as past years in terms of worldwide sourcing—with a few deviations depending on government travel restrictions.
What Return Visitors Expect
Barbara Muckermann, Jason Liberty, and Roberto Martinoli, from left to right, answer questions after Silver Moon’s christening. / Photo courtesy of Silversea.
According to Barbara Muckermann, Silversea’s chief commercial officer, the first thing repeat premium passengers, the line’s Venetian Society members, ask for is to return onboard. When the line asks for further information, they mention two key points. For itineraries, Muckermann stressed that “the first one is the farther the better.” “When we proposed domestic cruising, the response was a loud ‘no.’”
Second, previous visitors expressed their desire for a completely vaccinated staff and guests. So, due to the Greek government enabling crew members to get vaccinations, that occurred, according to the line.
According to Muckermann, “we think this comfort has significantly boosted the demand,” which is “strong and unprecedented” for 2024 and 2024.
“Our visitors are recognizing that immersing themselves in nature is a very excellent notion to avoid a pandemic,” she said, “therefore we see very, very high demand for our exotic sailings like Antarctica, Galapagos, and the Russian Far East.”
Supportive Parents, New Programs
The Lefebvre family sold a majority interest (67 percent) in Silversea Cruises to Royal Caribbean Group a few years ago. Prior to it, the line had made an investment in the brand. But did the outright acquisition achieve the goals of Royal Caribbean Group?
“It’s worked very well,” Fain says. “The goal was not just to add the brand, but also to have the chance to grow it both in terms of what it offered and in terms of size. Onboard, I believe you can see that we’re doing both.”
Silver Moon’s new S.A.L.T. Kitchen / Photo by Silversea
The S.A.L.T culinary program, the Invictus Project, Silversea’s improved free caviar program, and the ultra-luxury line’s new complimentary limousine service were all mentioned by Fain.
Silversea received two new ships during the pandemic period, the Silver Moon and the expeditionary Silver Origin, thanks to Royal Caribbean’s financial power. Silver Dawn, the third new ship, will be delivered later this year.
According to Liberty, Royal Caribbean Group has admired Silversea’s ultra-luxury and adventure brand for a long time before buying a controlling stake in it. He said executives questioned themselves, “Do you create it or do you purchase it?” while seeking to add certain particular ship categories to their brand portfolio.
Royal Caribbean Group ultimately decided to purchase. “We had always maintained that [Silversea] was the true leader… and we would attempt to do that if the chance arose,” he said.
Furthermore, Liberty emphasizes that “our clients develop with time.” He thinks that younger passengers who are just beginning their professions and in the early stages of their families will find the Royal Caribbean International brand to be a good match, but as they progress in life, their children get older, and their jobs mature, they may switch to Celebrity Cruises.
They may be traveling extensively and checking off bucket-list locations in the next phase of their life, with more job advancement or perhaps retirement, increased money, and new family dynamics. As a result, having an ultra-luxury line with far-flung routes is critical.
Liberty explains, “Having that complete offering accessible is what we aim to be, and that’s why Silversea was such a great match within the family.”
While the industry-wide demand for cruising is increasing, reactivating a whole fleet and filling all those ships isn’t always simple. COVID-19 limitations still exist in certain nations, while others have stringent procedures in place, and the Delta version is on the increase.
Given the highly publicized events of early 2024, where television and other news outlets showed sick people onboard ships, reported passenger deaths, discussed ships being turned away from ports, and detailed issues of people being “stuck” at sea for days or even weeks onboard, some consumers have a negative perception of cruising.
As a consequence, Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, told Travel Agent, “we really have to rebuild the confidence, the faith in travel, in safety, and in cruise safety.” “Incidents that occurred 15 to 17 months ago severely damaged the reputation of the industry.”
At Silver Moon’s baptism, Richard Fain gives a speech. / Photo courtesy Silversea
It’s critical, according to Fain “”an goal of being better than any other type of vacation you might have” and “to move from being an example of what may go wrong…to what could go well.” We believed it was doable.”
“We were even desperate enough to hook up with another cruise line—Norwegian Cruise Line—and believe me, we have to be very desperate to tie up with another cruise line,” he joked with Silver Moon’s christening audience in the ship’s theater last week as he explained the stages in that process.
Nonetheless, the result was beneficial to both the two cruise rivals as well as the industry as a whole. The “Healthy Sail Panel,” established by Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, started changing the industry dynamic last summer. “It was a really wonderful bunch of individuals who put in a lot of effort,” Fain adds. “We enlisted the help of as many experts as we could. It turns out that if you bring a bunch of clever individuals in a room together, they’ll come up with excellent answers.”
“It wasn’t the solution,” Fain emphasized, “but science influenced the answer.” The work of the committee on establishing health/safety guidelines was presented to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in September 2024. (CDC).
Many lines have used the list as the basis for all or part of their own health and safety programs. “I believe Silversea has taken it very seriously and worked with it,” Fain added, “and I think we’ve seen that throughout.”
“Everybody needs to work on this,” he added, on the path to regaining his credibility. “Everyone must work together. But when they do, the results are fantastic, therefore I believe that’s the solution.”
When asked during a post-christening Q&A session on Silver Moon about what lesson they’d learned during the pandemic, here’s what some officials relayed to the audience:
“I believe that if you cater to tourists, they will find these goods so addicting that they will be unable to remain at home,” Muckermann said. “It’s mostly due to our passengers, who have an insatiable desire to explore the globe.
Muckermann also said that the staff is the primary reason why people return. “So, nothing has changed, and nothing will ever change. This is our industry’s strength, and I believe it’s a lesson that was reinforced.”
Liberty once joked, “I discovered that my children aren’t very attractive. I believe it instilled in us a sense of humility, making us more modest and appreciative of everyone.”
In Greece, Jason Liberty talks to the press. / Image courtesy of Silversea
He also noted that it is easy to get into a pattern and become “like a machine” while attempting to create, promote, advertise, and provide world-class holidays. As a result, “when everything stops, you can truly stand back and look at what you’ve got, what you’ve created,” Liberty said. “I believe that one’s mindset may really alter one’s life, which I admire.”
Chavdar Georgiev, the captain of the Silver Moon, stated one of the most important things he’s learnt is to “be grateful and cherish every day because anything may happen.”” Silver Moon’s godmother, Gaia Gaja of the Italian Gaja Winery, cracked a joke that had the crowd laughing: “I hear wine is more significant than I imagined.””
“What I personally learnt is that there is always a way out,” said Roberto Martinoli, president and CEO of Silversea. Never surrender.
“So, I believe that was the most important lesson taught since we went through so much.” However, he said “Persistence was rewarded. It is critical to never give up.”
Separately, Travel Agent questioned Liberty in a private interview whether he ever thought that the financial situation in 2024 was so terrible that there wasn’t much chance for the industry?
“Our culture is usually extremely optimistic,” Liberty remarked of the Royal Caribbean Group. “We have a strong emphasis on finding solutions.” “and a commitment to continual development As a consequence, he emphasized that “I don’t believe there were any days when we were concerned that we wouldn’t make it.”
He did admit, though, that “you know there were difficult days.” “If you recall, the capital markets were closed in the early days… and you find yourself in need of some short-term liquidity.”
Liberty, on the other hand, praised the company’s culture and good connections with financial organizations, saying that “they all really stepped up for us.” He thinks that the business is now in a “very good financial position.” “Because we took the correct measures at the appropriate time, we’re leading the way in getting our ships back up and running.”
New Hope, a New Ship
Launched on June 18, Silver Moon was the world’s first new ultra-luxury ship to set sail after the pandemic. Martinoli thanked Fincantieri, the Italian shipbuilding company that built Silver Moon in its Ancona, Italy, shipyard, with more than 1,000 workers toiling on the project through the pandemic’s toughest times.
Silver Moon in Fincantieri’s shipyard in Ancona, Italy. / Photo courtesy of Silversea.
Martinoli said that when Fincantieri informed him that “the delivery is confirmed,” he didn’t trust it. He and others couldn’t see how a ship could be built during a pandemic, yet “it occurred.”
“It is emotional for me to step aboard this beautiful new ship,” Fain said, noting that taking possession of a new ship and any naming ceremony is always reason for joy.
“I am happy to report that cruising is leading the way toward opening up the globe in general,” Fain said, adding that the world is still quite isolated and travel is still more restricted than he’d like.
“Cruising was condemned by some a year and a half ago as a very dangerous atmosphere,” he added. It was both remote and bustling. But, over the past 17 months, we’ve been working hard with government authorities, safety experts, and others to change that.” “People tend to think of cruising as a big company,” Fain said, “but we depend on everything from stevedores to taxi drivers to bus drivers, and all the little companies that support our sector.” “I’m happy we’re back,” says the narrator.
Tully Luxury Travel co-founder and CEO Mary Jean Tully
During a Q&A in Silver Moon’s theater, Mary Jean Tully, co-founder and CEO, Tully Luxury Travel, expressed the agency community’s appreciation to Fain and his team for their support and relationship with the trade throughout the pandemic months.
“I simply want to thank you all for what you’ve done for our business from the standpoint of travel agents,” Tully said. On commissions, you shielded us. You contacted other travel agencies who were unsure whether they would be able to make it. You promised to help them by giving them money. It’s something we’ll never forget. And for that, I thank you.”
Vaccinated or not vaccinated Vaccinated
Cruises departing from Florida ports are now carrying both vaccinated and unvaccinated passengers (according to Florida law, which prohibits companies from requiring a vaccination for customers to obtain services). However, the latter must follow extra procedures and undergo further testing (often at their own cost).
While Silversea does not currently offer cruises from Florida, Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises do. “It’s working a bit better than we anticipated, and I believe it’s because the overwhelming majority of our visitors want to get vaccinated, and they are,” Fain emphasizes. “There are certain exceptions, such as visitors who do not want to get vaccinated, and we are accommodate them in Florida, but with extra procedures to ensure that everyone remains safe.”
Despite this, Fain claims that the ships are sailing with 90 percent or more vaccinated passengers and 100 percent vaccinated personnel.
“But I think what people also want to see is that the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” he says, noting that “people are seeing that the cruises are going on, [the industry across the globe is] carrying hundreds of thousands of people, and we are having instances of positive COVID-19 cases,” but that “we are dealing effectively with those in previously set-down protocols agreed to by governments and agenc,” he says.
For example, earlier this summer, Travel Agent was on the Celebrity Millennium when two vaccinated passengers tested positive. However, contact was traced, all passengers were retested, and no one else became ill. On the ship traveling from St. Maarten, all passengers and staff were inoculated.
Earlier this summer, the Celebrity Millennium docked in Philipsburg, St. Maarten. / Photo by Susan J. Young
Despite the fact that those two Celebrity visitors were asymptomatic, they tested positive during a regular antigen test administered to all guests. “They were separated, their close connections were isolated, they were brought home, they got to travel on a private plane—because we only had a few instances, we were able to manage them well—and it didn’t interfere with anybody else’s vacation,” Fain said.
“The beauty here is that we’ve taken an industry that was once seen to be a big potential danger factor and flipped it around such that it’s now the safest place to be,” Fain thinks.
The fact that the cruise industry has a few instances and is now treating them properly is crucial, according to Fain, who added, “The key thing is that they’re not infecting other passengers.”
It’s Only the Beginning
So, where does the cruise sector stand on the recovery scale? “The first ships sailed in the Caribbean and that region in June,” Fain added. “That was the beginning of a tremendous resurgence.” He observed that isolated cruising has previously happened in places like Italy, the Canary Islands, and Singapore, but that “now you’re seeing a huge revival” elsewhere. “We’re all coming back,” said the group.
Still, “we’re just getting started,” Fain added. The proportion of the entire fleet that has returned to cruising is modest, “although it’s probably a little bit greater in our situation,” says the captain.
Two things, he adds, will most likely take some time to happen:
- First and foremost, he claims, the routes, ships, and personnel must be stabilized.
- Second, the public must perceive that those components have been stabilized, which “may take some time.” Fain highlighted the uncertainty of the previous 18 months, which included trips being canceled and itineraries being altered.
“I believe the public wants to see a time of stability [and] to be able to say, ‘Aah, it’s back.’ “It’s back,” Fain said, “and that doesn’t happen overnight,” which is why Royal Caribbean Group was eager to have as many ships up and running as soon as possible.
“Even if we’re doing it at modest load factors at first—just to get the flywheel going—to restore the confidence that cruising is really back,” Fain added, “that’s what’s most important.”
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