Interview: Ashok Kumar talks trends at Cruise Travel Mart

Interview: Ashok Kumar talks trends at Cruise Travel Mart

Cruise Master managing director was among the industry leaders at the annual marketplace event in Dubai

The third edition of the UAE’s Cruise Travel Mart took place on 25 April 2023 at the Shangri-La Dubai in the UAE. The event was attended by more than 200 travel professionals and provided a platform for cruise partners, agents, airlines and ancillary suppliers to discuss potential opportunities and trends shaping the emerging cruise market in the Middle East. 

Spearheading the event, Cruise Master founder and managing director Ashok Kumar spoke with Connecting Travel about the event and how the sector is flourishing.

Connecting Travel: Can you tell us more about the purpose of Cruise Travel Mart? 
Ashok Kumar: Cruise Travel Mart is an initiative conceived and spearheaded by the heads of the general sales agents of leading cruise lines in the Middle East. It has emerged as an annual gathering where participating cruise lines collaborate to showcase the latest trends in cruise travel to the travel agency community. This engagement fosters a deeper understanding of various cruising styles among travel agents, empowering them to position cruise travel as a premier offering to their clientele.

Once perceived as niche or complex, cruise holidays have now ascended to become one of the most coveted leisure options available, contributing significantly to the bottom line of travel agents and underscoring the enduring appeal of cruising in today's market.

CT: What are the biggest trends shaping the industry today?
AK: As anticipated, 2023 witnessed a significant surge in cruise bookings, signalling a robust recovery for the travel industry, especially within the cruise sector. Destination preferences remained largely unchanged, with the Mediterranean maintaining its dominance. However, there was a notable shift in interest towards Northern Europe, particularly Norway, as travellers from the Middle East sought cooler climates amid the summer months. 

Alaska also remained a favoured cruise destination; however, delays in securing US and Canada visas led to a sharp downturn in business activity in this segment

Entering 2024, we are buoyed by a sense of optimism, having closed 2023 on a high note. I am pleased to affirm that we have either matched or exceeded the levels seen in 2019. Notably, there have been exciting new vessel deployments in Europe, indicating a resurgence in interest.

For instance, Princess Cruises’ newly-launched Sun Princess now offers enticing seven-, 14- and 21-night sailings in the Mediterranean and Greek Isles, drawing significant interest from travellers.

Sun Princess during construction

Similarly, the Norwegian Viva, introduced by NCL, has become a crowd favourite in Europe. Building on this momentum, its sister ship, the Norwegian Prima, successfully commenced voyages between Southampton and Reykjavik in 2023.

Additionally, the debut of the Icon of The Seas by Royal Caribbean International, the largest cruise ship to date, has been a standout feature, captivating audiences with its year-round sailings in the Caribbean.

CT: What can we expect to see in 2025?
AK: Exciting news awaits in 2025 with the introduction of several new ships! Among them is the eagerly anticipated Star Princess, the sibling vessel of the Sun Princess, set to debut and dazzle passengers with its inaugural voyages.

Adding to the allure, Royal Caribbean International will unveil the majestic Star of The Seas, promising unparalleled experiences on the high seas. Equally thrilling is the launch of the Norwegian Aqua by NCL, poised to redefine luxury cruising with its innovative amenities and captivating itineraries. These new deployments mark a significant milestone in the evolution of the cruise industry, offering travellers a plethora of unforgettable adventures to anticipate in the coming year.

Disney Cruise Lines had recently announced magical cruise vacations in Southeast Asia. A brand-new cruise ship, Disney Adventure, will be homeported in Singapore for at least five years from in 2025. 

Celebrity Cruises | Explora Journeys | Hurtigruten | Norwegian Cruise Line | Oceania Cruises
Royal Caribbean

CT: Looking forward, what are you most excited about in the industry?
AK: The most thrilling aspect of our industry is the annual addition of new ships, strategically deployed in destinations that command the highest demand from our region. While we may still lag behind markets like Europe and the Americas, the Middle East cruise industry continues its steady ascent. We're witnessing a gradual diversification of preferences, with growing interest in alternative cruising styles such as ultra-luxury, river cruises and expeditions, alongside the enduring popularity of contemporary cruising, particularly among large families travelling with their entourages.

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