A conference branded around the idea of #nextgeneration, the 2019 CLIA conference hosted 750 agents and some of the world leaders of the cruising industry to discuss all things new and what’s next from some of the biggest names in the business.

Speakers Lucy and Andy at CLIA 2019

Royal Caribbean®

With the recent cancellation of Royal Caribbean’s Independence of the Sea’s 2020 UK season, a main question for Ben Bouldin – Associate Vice President and Managing Director for Royal Caribbean International, was why the line decided to reposition “Indi” as she is also known, over to the Caribbean and what were their plans for the UK market now.

Royal Caribbean have recently launched its new private island Perfect Day at CocoCay which has had a “phenomenal” reaction from consumers, this is what prompted the decision to cancel Independence of the Sea’s 2020 UK season. Bouldin discussed how he feared the ship may need to reposition after the line was looking “a little bit light” in the Caribbean for the upcoming expected demand.

Ben Bouldin speaking for Royal Caribbean at CLIA 2019

Speaking at CLIA, Ben Bouldin emphasised how it wasn’t a decision the line had made lightly or planned, stating they wouldn’t have allowed her to go on sale. He went on to explain how “Independence of the Seas is an incredibly popular ship which sells incredibly well.” She was one of the first ships to go through the Amplified programme and with all other “Amplified” ships already in the Caribbean, when it was felt another was needed there, he feared what might have to happen.

Bouldin stressed how the cancellation of her season was in no way a reflection on the UK market and how “it is our appetite to get back to two ships in the UK very quickly”.

Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Voyages

It was quite the surprise to have the Virgin Group founder turn up at CLIA 2019. With a dramatic entrance that got the atmosphere buzzing, everyone sat keenly waiting to hear what Sir Richard had to say of his entrance into the cruising world with his first ship – Scarlet Lady.

Branson and Tom McAlpin – Virgin Voyages chief executive spoke of their plans and wishes for the line. It was made clear Virgin Voyages had a mission to challenge old cruising traditions and break the mold in order to attract those new to cruise and certainly the younger generation. McAlpin said: “We don’t want to fit into any one category. We’re different. We’re going to be so unique they’re going to want to be on board.”

Sir Richard Branson and Tom McAlpin at CLIA 2019

McAlpin discussed the brands “Rebellious Luxe” category which they have created for themselves. It’s a way the brand hopes to set itself apart from everything currently available in the market. They wish to give customers more flexibility, they want to understand the needs of their “sailors”. It was noted how WI-FI is now almost a life necessity and therefore this would be included as standard with their voyages. Tom McAlplin also detailed how their “Rebellious Luxe” image took inspiration from the Virgin Groups music roots. He added: “It’s all about making you feel like you’re a rock star and feeling like you can get what you want, when you want it.”

When speaking of Scarlet Lady which is due to launch next year, Branson said: “We wanted to try create a cruise ship that the millions of people who have never been on a cruise ship will go on, so we can expand the market.”

Branson hinted at potential extra destinations for Virgin Voyages with Mexico, the Mediterranean, Scandinavia, Turks & Caicos Islands and even Australia being in the running for future itineraries. Sir Richard added: “I am extremely excited and that is why I have flown 4,000 miles to come and talk to you about it.”

It was revealed Scarlet Lady will be making a trip to the UK when she launches next spring, traveling to both Dover and Liverpool in February 2020. – So you may just be lucky enough to go and catch a glimpse of her!

MSC to revamp Magnifica

Still to be officially confirmed but albeit very likely, MSC Cruises strongly implied that MSC Magnifica will be lengthened and finished off with some British touches before she comes to her homeport in the UK.

Antonio Paradiso, MSC Cruises managing director for the UK and Ireland has previously kept quiet on the lines plans around which ship was to go into dry dock. The renovation is planned to be completed for Summer 2021!

Cruising – Value for money

Andy Harmer, CLIA’s UK and Ireland director took to the stage to celebrate the cruising industry having a record breaking year, surpassing two million UK and Irish passengers – two years ahead of schedule! Although consumer confidence may be slightly down at the moment in regards to the continuing issues with Brexit, the outlook is looking very positive for the industry.

Hands shaped as a love heart around cruise ship

Larry Pimental, Azamara’s president and CEO made the point: “Industry continues to grow because it’s good value. Value is not just about the price you paid, it’s about what you get after you paid.” Pimental felt that a number one driver for consumers booking a cruise was the experiences that come along with it. Itinerary destinations are now holding greater importance than the experience of the cruise ship itself, also this is still a factor.

Head of NCL, Frank J Del Rio also spoke about the importance of experiences. He believes this is something the entire cruise industry does best, along with continuing to adapt to society changes and needs of the customer. He said: “Today, shorts, flip-flops and T-shirts could be your millionaire next door. The cruise industry does a great job of keeping up with society.”

Next Generation Cruising

The conference speakers covered a number of topics but the end message from all was the same. The cruise industry is to continue to thrive and grow and cruise lines are ready to take onboard not only their most loyal and loved consumers but those wishing to experience cruising for the first time. The #Nextgeneration of cruising sees technology advances make everything from bookings, time spent onboard, excursions and much more far simpler than it ever was before. The younger generation, particularly millennial’s, are now of keen interest to many cruise lines and it’ll be interesting to see how the industry progresses.

Tony Roberts, vice-president of Princess Cruises highlighted the fact $60 billion is being spent on ship builds over the next few years and if they’re anything like Celebrity’s latest “Edge” classification of ships, they’re all sure to be impressive!

What do you think?  Are you a new cruiser, are you excited for all that is to come? We sure are!

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