The annual Seatrade Cruise Global mega-convention, which draws about 11,000 cruise industry participants, this year featured an unusual sight: As thousands watched Tuesday in the main hall of the Miami Convention Center, three cruise line presidents took the stage — and they were all women.
"This event has been going on for more than 30 years and we finally made it onto the main stage," said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and chief executive of Celebrity Cruises.
The women's session brought up the rear in a series of opening remarks, but its very existence was a triumph of sorts. Women constitute 18% to 22% of the cruise industry workforce; 5% to 22% of cruise ship officers are women, depending on the line.
"We have a lot of work to do," said Jan Swartz, president of Princess Cruises.
Working in the cruise industry is a big lifestyle change, particularly in the deck and technical areas, added Christine Duffy, president of Carnival Cruises. "But when we make decisions about what people want, there should be women at the table."
At an earlier session during the four-day convention, a quartet of male cruise industry titans discussed a bright outlook for the industry.
Eighteen new cruise ships will be launched this year to serve an estimated 30 million cruisers. More than 1.1 million workers are employed worldwide, making an economic impact of $134 billion, according to the panel, made up of Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean Cruises; Frank Del Rio, president and CEO of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings; Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corp; and Pierfrancesco Vago, executive chairman of MSC Cruises.
"There's nothing I see that suggests any kind of slowdown is on the horizon," NCL's Del Rio said.
The industry has been growing rapidly for the past decade. Last year, the number of passengers increased by almost 7% to 28.5 million, according to the Cruise Lines Industry Assn.
But the executives agreed that cruising has far to go to reach its potential.
"More than 1.4 billion travel annually, but only 30 million people cruise," Carnival's Donald said. "That's not much: Las Vegas gets 40 million visitors a year, Orlando has 70 million."
Does that mean even bigger cruise ships are on the horizon?
"Over time, all ships will get bigger," said Del Rio, whose biggest ship, the 4,004-passenger Norwegian Bliss, occasionally sails out of the Port of Los Angeles.
Vago, whose European-based cruise line MSC builds some of the world's largest ships, agreed that the trend is up. MSC will launch 7,000-passenger ships in 2022.
Smaller ships are also on the way, however, Donald said. With a limited number of shipyards in the world, growth is constrained, he said. "It takes a lot less time to build a small ship."
The cruise bosses also discussed environmental advances: “We sail responsibly,” Donald said. “Nobody wants to go to a polluted marine environment."
And they talked about efforts to limit ship visits to overtaxed ports such as Venice, saying that there are misconceptions about the role cruise lines play: Only about 1 million of Venice's annual 20 million visitors come on cruises, they said.