Of particular interest was a discussion revolving around the rapid evolution of online sales and distribution channels in other segments of the Asian travel market and how the cruise industry should react to that.
While Michael Hackman, Genting Hong Kong evp, marine operations and new shipbuilding said, 'When you look at Asia and the young kids on their mobile phones we need to look at how to take this going forward because that's progressing at a rate quicker than we are keeping up with.'
He noted that Genting is also looking at how to use the internet to build its sales and distribution model and acknowledged that his company has a marketing advantage from being able to tap its vast resorts business database,
Hackman asked whether the low cost carrier model could ever work for cruising and suggested that the level of explanation needed for the cruise product may limit the ability to bring the distribution network totally online. 'But I think that's going to play more of a part going forward with the new generation and how they buy and choose things, but how do we interface with this and yet not disrupt our traditional travel agency partners?' he asked.
Carnival Australia ceo Ann Sherry also acknowledged the challenge of online channels, looking at it from the other end where companies such as Alibaba have said they will enter the cruise market distribution space.
'We're very clear with our travel agent partners at the moment that we will protect that model but in the end customers will decide where they want to buy and if we can find ways of bringing cruise to life through more sophisticated websites better imagery and so on it may be that we do better conversion online than we ever imagined even last year,' said Sherry.
Chiming in on the topic, RCL Cruises md Dominic Paul said: 'The traditional mature markets like Australia, North America and the UK are gradually evolving to online distribution but it's taking quite a long time.'
Paul added, 'What we will see with the Asian markets, and China in particular, is an accelerated curve. We'll see the adoption of digital penetration and digital sales much quicker and I think that offers an enormous opportunity for us as an industry because we will break into this market much quicker because of it.'