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Misery at sea: The cruise ship business and your region’s economy

Cruise shop Carnical Triumph was being towed to Alabama after its engine caught fire. Photo: U.S. Coast Guard

Just in time to give winter-weary northeasterners a healthy shot of schadenfreude, and barely a year after the bungled journey of the Costa Concordia,  another winter cruise ship disaster is unfolding on picturesque blue seas.

While not deadly like the Costa Concordia accident, the journey of the Carnival Triumph must be ranking pretty high on the misery index, with more than 3,100 passengers and an untold number of crew members reportedly  munching on raw onion sandwiches and sleeping in open-air tents to avoid cabins with no air conditioning awash in sewage.  Travelers who thought they had it bad while stuck in airports last weekend may now be feeling downright fortunate as they read today’s headlines.

Thousands of sweltering passengers make for a travel-industry buzz, and if you’re looking for ways to localize the story, here are a few ideas:

Cruise industry.  Should your market include a port of call for ocean-going luxury liners,  you’re probably already on a review of the industry’s post-recession ups and downs.  Here’s a recent MSN Money story that recaps the latest financial status of the major cruise lines. It’s a helpful read if you aren’t familiar with the metrics of the industyr, including passenger booking figures.  The outlook for the larger lines is pretty sanguine despite the economy and the industry’s occasional image problems.

If you are in such a market, a couple of non-cruise line angles spring to mind:  What about support and supplier services?  How are they faring, and what are they seeing that might give cues into how cruise lines have weathered a turbulent economy?  Are any corners being cut in terms of amenities, upkeep and so on?

For example, I stayed in a familiar hotel last weekend and for the first time in many years, there were plastic cups instead of half a dozen glasses in the rooms. Forget bottled water, pads and pens or other pampering touches.  To the casual glance all was the same, but these little economies hinted at something else beneath the surface.  Similarly, can suppliers to your area’s ports of call shed light on changing demand or procurement practices by cruise lines?

Here’s a Houston Chronicle article about becoming a supplier to the Carnival line; it says curise ships are sourcing interesting local products at their ports of call.  I couldn’t find a supplier association or directory but it looks like most require security clearances so you might start with the Coast Guard for tips on how to find certified suppliers.

Even if you’re not near a major port, suppliers could be in your market.  Unisource, for example, is a facilities supply firm headquartered in George; its website indicates a substanatial cruise line clientele. Here’s a report on the cruise industry supply chain that is quite informative; you might have industry vendors in your area without knowing it, for items ranging from paper goods to wireless systems to ship-board cash cards.  Here’s a similar read from World Cruise Review, “Pulling Together,” about difficulties for suppliers.  The online Cruise Industry News is another helpful sourceo of story nuggets; the current issue serendipitously is about shipboard operations, from fuel use to “the hotel side.”

Other sources include the Cruise Lines International Association, a newly formed group comprised of several other organizations; CNBC’s “Cruise inc.” series also offers a lot of behind-the-scenes information on the $30 billion industry.

Other ideas:

Inland cruising.  Maybe your area is home to river cruises, or Great Lakes cruises, or dinner cruises on the Intercoastal Waterway, or whale-watching. If it floats, it might be fair game for a safety and disater preparedness review.

Boating industry.   If you can’t find any ties to those 3,00o-passenger ships, you might be able to make a tenuous or tongue-in-cheek tie-in to your local boating industry. Many expos and boat shows take place this time of year and perhaps would-be cruisers may be sinking thier money into DIY models instead of taking a chance on the ocearn liners.  The National Marine Manufacturers Association is one place to start.

Disaster preparedness.  There is no shortage of passenger horror stories stemming from lack of food, water and sanitation when planes, trains and ships get stalled in transit.  This might be a good moment to check in with area transportation firms and venues for a behind-the-scenes glimpse of disaster preparedness plans.  What sorts of emergency supplies are stockpiled at airports and on cruise ships?  What are airports doing these days to ameliorate the dreaded stuck-on-tarmac scenarios?  What sorts of jobs and careers are out there for crisis managers and logistics experts who specialize in preventing, preparing for and responding to big transport glitches?

In Beats, Media | Advertising, Retail | Lifestyle, Story ideas, Transportation | Airlines | Travel.

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  1. Hilma Cubeta says:

    By contrast, dedicated transport oriented ocean liners do “line voyages” and typically transport passengers from one point to another, rather than on round trips. Traditionally, an ocean liner for the transoceanic trade will be built to a higher standard than a typical cruise ship, including high freeboard and stronger plating to withstand rough seas and adverse conditions encountered in the open ocean, such as the North Atlantic. Ocean liners also usually have larger capacities for fuel, victuals, and other stores for consumption on long voyages, compared to dedicated cruise ships.,.

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