Editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, far left, and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. CEO Richard Fain, far right, moderated a panel of RCCL presidents, seated: Mark Conroy of Silversea, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo of Celebrity and Larry PImentel of Azamara.
FORT LAUDERDALE — Cruise line presidents from Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. brands took on the subject of over-tourism, the evolution of luxury cruising and female leadership during a panel at CruiseWorld.
Regarding over-tourism, they said that in the general travel industry, cruise lines are a small part of the phenomenon — but a highly visible one.
“Our reality is, perception rules,” said Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president of Celebrity Cruises. “There are these big white ships pulling in and it’s a lot of people at once.”
Larry Pimentel, president of Azamara, said that 25 years ago there were only 1.4 million outbound travellers from China; today there are 150 million. “India is also coming,” he said. “By no means is this only a cruise issue; it is an industry issue.”
And Mark Conroy, managing director of the Americas, for Silversea Cruises, said that overreacting to over-tourism could be overly damaging to some local residents in destinations such as Venice.
“Tourism is the largest employer in the world overall,” Conroy said. You can’t just shut it down. If you banned all tourism into Venice, there’d be a big unemployment problem there.”
Silversea redefining expedition cruising
Conroy said that 10 years ago when he was working for a rival company he thought that Silversea chairman Manfredi Lefebvre was crazy to bolt an expedition arm onto a luxury brand.
“I thought he’d lost his mind until I saw the per diems from the expedition business,” Conroy said.
Silversea, as a top-tier luxury brand, also brought a different concept to what was then more of a rustic product. At that time, Conroy recalled, “You had to sacrifice your lifestyle to go on an expedition.”
But when Silversea renovated its two oldest ships, the Silver Cloud and Silver Wind, it decided to transform them into expedition vessels but with the space and amenities of a luxury ship.
Conroy said that one of the unintended consequences was that the larger ship had faster speeds than most expedition ships.
“We can cross the Drake Passage [to Antarctica] in 28 hours instead of two days,” Conroy said
In defining the “luxury” appeal of his Azamara brand, Pimentel said that value plays a bigger part than in traditional luxury brands. As a department store, Azamara would compare to Nordstrom, he said.
“We’re not Saks Fifth Avenue.” As a car, we would be more like a Lexus.”
A woman in charge
The panel followed the CEO Conversation between Royal Caribbean Chairman Ltd. chairman and CEO Richard Fain and editor in chief Arnie Weissmann, and Fain returned to the stage to co-moderate the panel of presidents.
Lutoff-Perlo, who was named the president of Celebrity five years ago, and Fain asked her what was is like to be one of the few women to run a cruise line. She said at first, she took it for granted.
“When I was appointed I didn’t think about my gender at all,” she said. “But then when I was appointed, to the rest of the world apparently it is a really big deal.
“The great part is the part I can do to pay it forward” to other females in the industry, she said.
Azamara Journey will return to service on March 17th, following repairs to the damaged propeller that forced it to cancel its upcoming voyage from Shanghai.
Earlier this week, the ship was forced to cut its current cruise of Asia short after debris caused damage to the propeller. The ship was en route to Tokyo when the 601 passengers and 399 members of the crew on board felt an “unusual vibration”, according to a statement from the cruise line.
A subsequent inspection revealed the damage. Although Azamara said that the required repair work is relatively straightforward, it does require access to a dry dock, which is why the ship will be out of action for the first half of March.
The vessel will travel to Korea’s Orient Shipyard Gwanguang for repairs, according to Seatrade-Insider, before resuming service mid-March with a 17-night cruise around Asia.
A tweet from Azamara read: “It is regrettable that this incident occurred and spoiled our guests’ vacation. We will do everything we can to assist them.”