MIAMI — A month after the crippled Carnival Triumph cruise ship spent days without power in the Gulf of Mexico due to an engine fire, cruise leaders and experts began meeting Monday in Miami for an annual conference to discuss trends and the future direction of the industry.
The four-day Cruise Shipping Miami conference is expected to attract more than 10,000 people in the industry, including Carnival executives. But many experts say despite extensive news reports about the Triumph, the incident did not have a major impact on bookings, and sales have continued to show growth over the last month.
"We are seeing cruise bookings not only holding, but actually increasing over where they were a year ago," said Steve Loucks, chief communications officer for Travel Leaders Group, a North American travel company.
"The current wave season continues to be strong for the industry evidenced by higher pricing, year-over-year which indicates stronger bookings," wrote cruise blogger Stewart Chiron, with CruiseGuy.com, in an email.
Wave season refers to the first few months of the year when consumers often book their cruises for vacations they plan to take later in the year.
"I think people tend to forget rather fast," added Pace University professor Andrew O. Coggins, who focuses on hospitality and the tourism industry. "The Triumph itself, I don't think, is going to have a big impact on bookings. But if you have a series of them in a row, it would have a detrimental impact."
More than 4,000 people were aboard the Triumph on Feb. 10 when an engine room fire knocked out its primary power source, leaving the crippled ship adrift. It was eventually towed to Mobile, Ala. Carnival Cruise Lines, part of Miami-based Carnival Corp., owns both the Triumph as well as the Costa Concordia that ran aground off the coast of Italy a year ago, killing 32 people. (Carnival's president and CEO, Gerry Cahill, is expected to attend the conference.)
A Royal Caribbean International cruise ship returned to South Florida last week, concluding a voyage that saw more than a hundred people develop a gastrointestinal illness.
Some observers say these types of incidents may discourage travelers who have not taken a cruise before, but that they're unlikely to affect seasoned cruisers.
Brad Tolkin, CEO of World Travel Holdings, one of the biggest cruise-booking entities, said concerns about cruises, in the consumer's mind, are "more brand-focused than industry-focused."
"This has been the healthiest start to a year in several years," he said of bookings, adding that the latest series of events at sea "will be nothing but a blip."
But some experts disagree. "I roll my eyes at that," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of the CruiseCritic.com website. "This is exactly what happened with Costa Concordia. Nobody is asking questions. Nobody seems concerned."
There is no way to know the immediate impact Triumph will have on travelers who are "on the fence" about taking a cruise, she said. "We will not know for six to nine months. It's a wait and see answer."
The Costa Concordia's effect on the cruise industry unfolded over a period of months in 2012, as revenues grew at a slower rate than had been expected. A November 2012 report by PhoCusWright, the global travel market research company, said the cruise industry's growth rate fell to 4 percent in 2012, down from 7 percent in 2011. In addition to the Concordia, the industry was hurt by the U.S. recession and European financial crisis.
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