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Cruise ship comeback still tied up in port

Conrad Wilson Nov 3, 2014
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It’s been a pretty rough couple of years for the cruise industry.

First, there was the global recession. As if that wasn’t enough, the Costa Concordia ran aground off the coast of Italy. And finally, let’s not forget the handful of other high profile disasters and the image of cruise ships stranded at sea plastered all over cable news.

Yet, despite all this, the cruise industry is as hopeful as ever.  Bob Sharak is president of his eponymous travel consulting company.

“The cruise industry has proven to be continually popular and resilient after a little bit of a tough period in the last few years,” says Sharak, who also spent 20 years with the Cruise Lines International Association. “You’re seeing full ships, high occupancies. But you’re also seeing customers coming from not just North America, but from Europe, Asia and a lot of other emerging markets.”

Technically he’s right about the industry’s growth.

In 2012, 10.6 million Americans took a cruise, a number that inched up to 10.9 million last year. And, yes, as Sharak points out, cruising is becoming more popular in other parts of the world.

But others say that growth is too slow.

“There’s an expectation that it’s gotta, gotta get better and since that didn’t happen this year, it should happen next year,” says Maggie Rauch, an analyst with PhoCusWight, the travel industry research group behind those numbers. “Some of the optimism that you might be hearing is optimism that always exists this time of year for the coming year. Things are going to improve next year. Kind of like when your team doesn’t make the playoffs.”

Rauch said the cruise industry is having a hard time increasing its customer base.

Even more than hotels or airlines, cruising relies heavily on repeat business, she said.

“There’s a group of people that just take cruises ever year, do it again and again,” Rauch said. “And while obviously the cruise lines welcome their business, in order to grow they’re always looking at ‘how can we get people who haven’t taken a cruise before to do so for the first time?’”

So far this year’s been without major incidents meaning in the industry might be able to get more folks on board.

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