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Lots of News Came Out of the 2022 Seatrade Cruise Global Conference

Silversea’s Asymmetrically Designed Silver Nova

Seatrade Cruise Global 2022 was, well and truly, the most interesting and organized of all that I attended.  There was so much going on and so much information that I literally could write six articles.  I won’t be, but here is a summary…and it has a lot of information and my insights!

So with that, I am going to discuss briefly a variety of topics. (Hold On!  There are a lot of things, so this isn’t exactly brief! )

  • The Seabourn Elephant in the Room
  • Expedition Cruising
  • Silversea’s Antarctica Move and Its Commitment to a New Expedition Ship
  • Silversea’s Touting Its Being Under Royal Caribbean Group Ownership
  • Explora Journeys Has Two Ships Under Construction
  • Scenic Eclipse (Brand New) and Seabourn Venture Submarines
  • Ponant Becomes Larger, More Environmentally Friendly, and More North American
  • Seabourn Venture – Delayed?
  • Cruise Industry’s Commitment to Net Zero Emissions by 2050
  • Cruise Industry’s Commitment to Sustainable Tourism
  • No New Cruise Ships for Seabourn
  • Staffing, Crewing, and the Loss of Loyalty
  • Ports, Politics, and Actual Cruising!

First up: The Seabourn Elephant in the Room. Yes, I did run into some folks from Seabourn. And everyone came over or welcomed me coming over and it was pretty much all smiles…except for Seabourn’s President, Josh Leibowitz who gave me a perfunctory wave from a far corner the first time he saw me. Granted Seabourn/Holland America’s lawyers advised me that they instructed Seabourn employees not to communicate with me, but… It was nice that my personal relationships – and seemingly also my reputation as previously part of the family – were fairly intact.  (With the pretty consistent feelings confidentially expressed during Seatrade that Seabourn is for sale for all the reasons I have stated…and another one below…I look forward to someday soon -after the sale I believe is coming – having my two-decades-long relationship with the brand renewed.)

That out of the way, as a member of the Press, I was able to ask questions at press conferences and panel discussions.  I was consistently chosen to ask my questions and there were some pretty interesting and news-making responses!  Heck, I think I attended and listened to more of the press conferences and sessions than most of the other travel writers. That is probably in part because of my industry geekiness and also my more wide-ranging areas of interest and expertise. (Example: A consumer-focused publication isn’t going to be too invested in issues with crewing or the details of port development.)

Expedition Cruising –The entire morning of the last day was devoted to this topic and it was extremely informative…if you listened closely.  There were two major issues: (1) The seriously increasing number of expedition ships and, somewhat related thereto, (2) the need to find new itineraries and ports.  For perspective, during 2019-2022 27 new expedition ships will have been launched and, with 14 more under construction, the total expedition fleet will increase to 94.  While some of the oldest (and least environmentally and passenger-friendly) will certainly be retired, most will not. 

  • This explosive growth is based upon a few factors, but undoubtedly the number one factor is the much higher fares that expedition ships garner…at least for now! (More ships = more competition).  The others are, generally, a relevant population that is more active, has more disposable income, is more travel sophisticated, and, related thereto, more socially and environmentally aware/engaged.  
  • As a result of this growth, there is a need to spread the expedition fleet out so as to not degrade either the expedition experience or the natural environment (over-tourism of delicate areas).  This means not only new areas of Antarctica but other parts of the world.  
  • While the Antarctic region is No. 1 for demand and pricing, there is a need to find ways to make the Arctic regions more attractive to guests and to find non-polar regions and ports that expand demand during the spring and autumn seasons…more so than expanding the polar seasons which will then include less desirable weather and wildlife experiences.  
  • There needs to be a significant economic partnership with smaller and more remote destinations and villages along with the understanding that they do not need to spend money on infrastructure because the expedition ships bring that with them.  
  • There is concern that – whispered among the expedition folks – there is lack of truly qualified expedition captains, ice pilots, and expedition team members and the training that all of them need.

Silversea’s Antarctica Move and Its Commitment to a New Expedition ShipOne question I asked I thought was fairly innocuous, but I woke up to seeing headlines in almost every cruise industry publication.  At the Silversea press conference which was very much about the new asymmetrically-designed and LNG powered Silver Nova and environmental sustainability (a big theme of the conference), a representative from Argentina inquired as to why Silversea shifted its Antarctica hub from Ushuaia to Puerto Willams in Chile.

As a follow-on question, I asked, Since we are now discussing Antarctica, is Silversea considering a new expedition ship since other than the Silver Origin, it doesn’t have a modern true expedition ship?  Silversea’s President and CEO said, “After sustainability, it is my highest priority.

Conrad Combrink, Silversea’s Senior Vice President of Expeditions, Turnaround Operations, and Destination Management later ran into me and we reconnected after not seeing each other for years. We had a really good conversation about Silversea’s move to Chile, the reasons why, and what the future may hold. It was, without violating any confidences, another look into the now enthusiastic and refreshing approach Silversea has towards its operations today and well into the future now that it is part of the Royal Caribbean Group.  (The reasons really give Silversea a truly luxury and efficient pre- and post-expedition experience; which I will write about separately.) 

Silversea’s Touting Its Being Under Royal Caribbean Group Ownership.  Throughout the conference, Silversea referred to it now being part of the Royal Caribbean Group and how this newfound financial strength allows for so many new opportunities. Remember when so many said I was not supportive of Silversea because I was so involved with Seabourn…like there was some sort of benefit to me criticizing Silversea? (I never understood that logic).  Well, if you ask anyone now – including anyone at Silversea – I was spot on!  Silversea just didn’t have the financial ability to deliver the product it originally did and it was a struggle for quite a few years.  You can see the enthusiasm on everyone’s faces that those frustrating days are in the past and the future has never looked brighter for Silversea.  And, of course, I will continue to call it like I honestly see it…with no agenda!

Explora Journeys Has Two Ships Under ConstructionWhile I have kept everyone up to date on this cruise line, there has been a bit of trepidation as to how real this new cruise line is and if the ships are actually being built. This was the first time I have seen more emphasis on the fact that Explora Journeys is part of MSC – actually its passion project – which is estimated to have made over $100,000,000,000 in profits last year.  And that MSC is privately held so there is no need to worry about satisfying shareholders that may have only a short-term profit motive.

Further, at the Explora Journeys’ press conference it showed a time lapse video of Explora I – which will be floated out later this month (May 2022) – and Explora II under construction. 

So now you should have confidence that Explora I’s maiden season will start…and it will be on time.

Scenic Eclipse (Brand New) and Seabourn Venture SubmarinesI spoke with the folks at U-Boat Worx, the manufacturer of the Scenic Eclipse and Seabourn submarines. Scenic has a new model coming that addresses some of the quirks in the original model (which it currently operates and which Seabourn soon will). First, rather than having to climb down a ladder to get into the submersible, there will be a lift that gently drops you into it which will make it more accessible to those with mobility issues. Second, it will have one large ceramic glass “bubble” which allows the relocating of the passenger seats more forward and the pilot’s station being after. This will allow for better views in more comfort. Third, it will be more maneuverable and relatively faster using more thrusters and in different locations.

Scenic Eclipse’s New Submarine
To quell one rumor: The submarines for Seabourn Venture are safely being stored in Curacao as that is one of the last items you want to put on a ship under construction. More importantly, it is available and used for the training of the pilots that will be operating them which is an extensive process.
Ponant’s Le Commandant Charcot

Ponant Becomes Larger, More Environmentally Friendly, and More North American – Ponant is making two serious efforts: Expansion and Diversity of Guests.  Ponant is aggressively expanding its fleet with the recently launched Le Commandant-Charcot – its luxury hybrid electric polar exploration ship powered by liquified natural gas and a true icebreaker with a PC2 class hull, new classic ships being delivered, the purchase of the Paul Gauguin in Tahiti and its announcement that it will be building a new, purpose-built-, ship for the Tahitian market. Add to that, Ponant passenger mix is now 50% North American sourced, so the “it’s a French cruise” is no longer true…though a French flair still does distinguish the line.

Seabourn Venture – Delayed? – The short answer is, “I don’t know”, but reading the tea leaves says something else. 

  • As I mentioned in an earlier article, the Seabourn Venture is currently undergoing sea trials (though I don’t believe that is something Seabourn is discussing publicly).  I checked on a site that tracks ship
    movements and her recent history seems to confirm sea trials are underway.
  • The Seabourn Venture wasn’t discussed much during the conference and there were no materials offered, no less showing interiors or even a full view of the exterior.  One would have thought that somewhere within a panel or news conference (Seabourn didn’t hold one) or conversation, an enthusiastic affirmative statement that the Seabourn Venture’s maiden voyage is this July. 
  • Josh Leibowitz did, incongruous to each discussion, try to “sell” Seabourn in each panel he was on but not on the imminent sailing of the Seabourn Venture.
  • When I asked Seabourn’s Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations about the rumors that the Seabourn Venture will be further delayed, his only comment was, “I don’t comment on rumors. Rumors are rumors.” Nothing affirmative.
  • Despite my writing an article raising the question, according to LinkedIn at least 20 people from Seabourn read it…Seabourn has had no response.  
  • Although not much should be read into this last one, I had a very brief and pleasant chat with Jen Martin, Seabourn’s Director of Expedition Operations whom I’ve never met. She ever so sweetly mentioned the nerves and excitement, but didn’t mention anything about her being on time…or not. (I never met her before and she seems really nice, BTW.)
  • On the other hand, there were comments that the Maiden Voyage was taken off the Seabourn website.  As of this writing, it is there and there is very limited availability, but there is availability!

Cruise Industry’s Commitment to Net Zero Emissions by 2050 – To understand, Carbon Neutral means reducing and offsetting CO2 emissions to balance out at no increase in CO2. Net Zero – a much tougher standard – means reducing emissions across the entire supply chain to zero. This was a major focus of Seatrade Cruise Global 2022, so there were many discussions.  I posed a question during one of the panels essentially saying, “Since cruise ships have a useful life of about 25 years (or more) how is the industry going to modify these older technology ships to meet such a standard and how is the industry going to build new ships with technologies that don’t practically exist or are known today?”

This got an enthusiastic response from Roberto Martinoli, Silversea’s President and CEO, who also discussed in the Silversea Press Conference quite a bit about Silversea’s first real move toward this with the LNG-powered Silver Nova.  Mr. Martinoli is an engineer by background, and he became very excited about new technologies that are now in their infancy regarding battery storage and so much more. He also focused on how older ships can be retrofitted.

It wasn’t an appropriate time for me to challenge some of that. For example, Windstar just removed the circa 1988 main engines from its Star Pride, Legend, and Breeze and replaced them with far more efficient engines because retrofitting just wasn’t practical…but these are small ships (yachts, if you will) so it could be done. On larger ships, it is practically and financially impossible.  But also I didn’t have to! 

The president of Explora Journeys, Michael Ungerer, asserted the focus for those older ships (and MSC has hundreds of them!) is green fuels.   

This is going to be a hot topic for many years to come!

Cruise Industry’s Commitment to Sustainable TourismThe concern, especially from the various ports, is that cruise lines come in and use their towns and villages in a way that leaves little benefit and much degradation while the cruise lines and their contracted tour operators rake in the profits. As the cruise lines, and especially the expedition products, expand new ports are needed.  It was good to finally see at least a public acknowledgment that this is something that has to be corrected…and corrected now. 

Whether it is visiting Inuit communities and interacting with the locals in a way that profits them or partnering with local tour operators rather than the behemoth multi-destination tour companies the public admission is now there. (I have tried to help from local operators – which I use for my Culinary & Cultural Cruises, but the cruise lines pretty much shut them down, so they are forced to deal only with passengers; a less profitable and less secure business model).

As I mentioned when discussing the expanding expedition market, today’s relevant population is far more socially and environmentally aware. They will invest their time and money into vacations with companies that they respect and align with. It is good that many cruise lines and tour operators are becoming more aware of the need for Sustainable Tourism. Time will tell which cruise lines truly understand this and, besides talk about it, embrace it.

No New Cruise Ships for Seabourn – During the Luxury Cruise panel discussion I asked a question with two purposes. The second one was to confirm that Seabourn has no plans to build any more classic luxury ships. And Josh Leibowitz confirmed that to be true.  (Remember the Seabourn Venture and Pursuit were supposed to be sailing for two years now, so one must truly discount their addition as offsetting new classic luxury ships into the future!)

In contrast, Silversea just launched the Silver Dawn, Silver Moon, and has the Silver Nova and another yet unnamed ship under construction. Explora Journeys has at least four ships coming with two under construction, Ritz Carlton has just announced two more ships to be built. Ponant has more than doubled its fleet and is still growing. Regent Seven Seas has the Grandeur and Oceania has the Vista just out or coming out. But not Seabourn! 

So does this mean that Seabourn does not see it expanding its offerings for at least a decade while virtually (if not literally) all of the other luxury brands expanding their classic luxury cruise ship fleets?  I mean adding two small expedition ships doesn’t really add much inventory (both ships combined are equal to one classic luxury ship) and after those are operational in the next year there is nothing.

Clearly, the idea of no growth is not normal; especially for a publicly-traded company like Carnival Corp.  So does it mean something else?

Staffing, Crewing, and the Loss of LoyaltyThis is a serious issue in the cruise industry. Especially now there is a combination of high-quality staff and crew having found other jobs while the cruise industry was on pause and those coming back into the industry taking jobs where they can find them and, at times, at higher pay and better benefits. After listening for a while I posed a question essentially asking, “Don’t you think some of the major issues are that cruise lines just terminated so many staff and crew with no protections whatsoever, then never checked on them during the pandemic to see if they were OK and then couple those things with the combining of operations so that, for example, previously loyal luxury branded staff and crew are lumped into a pretty much no loyalty such as Seabourn being combined with Holland America, Princess and Cunard.”

The heads of the panelists started vigorously shaking in agreement before I could even finish the question and then, after stating that is “absolutely correct”, went on to have an interesting discussion about that
problem but, alas, only a little on how to correct it.

Ports, Politics, and Actual Cruising! – I did not have enough time to visit all of the booths that the ports from around the world have at Seatrade Cruise Global, but did make it to a few.

  • As I will be heading to Greenland with Quark Expeditions in August, I stopped by the Greenland. I didn’t get to speak with the head of tourism but I did speak with the top Greenland governmental official at length.  Remember what I was writing about sustainable tourism? Well, let’s just say he was extraordinarily
    passionate about this topic, continually saying I should ask each cruise and tour operator, “What are doing to assure the local population their fair share?!”  And so I shall!
  • Finland – With War in Ukraine and the threats about Russian actions if Sweden and Finland join NATO, I asked first how it has affected their cruise business (it has dropped from about 350 port visits to 173…so far) and then if Finland will ask to join NATO.  All three representatives didn’t hesitate with their answer: Yes!
  • India – The representatives were very enthusiastic in stating that travel to India is wide open. No testing. Very easy! 
  • Malta -Well, I didn’t actually visit the Malta booth, but rather when I was sitting in the Turkish Airlines lounge at the Miami International Airport the governmental representative came up to me and said he was trying to grab me the entire conference but I was always so busy (ain’t that the truth!). So we have a very interesting discussion about developing some luxury pre-cruise experiences in Malta and wanted my insights related to them. This is, obviously, to be continued!

There was so much more than was covered during the 2022 Seatrade Cruise Global and, to be honest, some of it is still settling in and being absorbed.  One thing is for certain: There is a lot happening in the cruise industry and those happenings have been altered by Covid, changing demographics and the world opening up in ways that the industry really didn’t expect even 10 years ago.

I am very much looking forward to developing the relationships rekindled and made during this conference and using all of the information to best serve my clients.

Up Next: Seatrade Sustainability

Interested in a Luxury Journey by Cruise, Expedition, or Land?

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