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A front-row seat for cruising's growth from .5m to 26m passengers

(Photo: Arlene Satchell)
Rick Sasso has witnessed an incredible 50-fold increase in cruisers since he started in the business
Who better to offer a glimpse into the cruise industry’s journey from niche to mainstream than MSC Cruises USA chairman Rick Sasso, who has lived it day in and day out for nearly 50 years and still thinks it’s pretty darn special.

'I learn something new almost every day and I get a new experience almost every day,' Sasso said in a new TED Talk-style presentation as Seatrade Cruise Global wrapped in Fort Lauderdale.

And who more suitable to deliver key insights about the cruise industry’s evolution than the affable and engaging, Sasso who has had a front seat to many of its milestone moments during his 46-year career.

'In the early '70s our industry was an entirely different industry than it is today and I think it’s a remarkable story,' Sasso said. 'I’m privileged that I was able to have a piece of that.'

Sasso’s enthusiasm for cruising and his prowess as a salesman were on full display on the Seatrade stage as he touted some of the game-changing innovations in cruise ship design and on-board offerings that forever changed the industry.

A slide presentation with side-by-side comparisons of photos of public spaces and cabins of earlier cruise ships versus their newer counterparts today helped the audience visualize how far the industry has evolved.

Significant strides in cruise passenger traffic were also made over the decades as newer and bigger ships debuted, Sasso noted.

Back when he started in the sector, roughly 500,000 passengers cruised annually, compared to the 25.8m worldwide cruisers estimated in 2017 and the 27.2m projected this year.

'The industry has grown 50-fold!' Sasso noted. 'I don’t believe there is an industry that has grown 50 times in size in that period of time. It’s just extraordinary.'

Looking back on the journey from niche to mainstream, Sasso said the on-board product improvements in particular have been 'off the charts.'

Now, instead of just a small room with two dumbbells and a bicycle where passengers can exercise, today’s ships are setting sail with 20,000-square-foot, full-service fitness centers with a wide range of wellness programs, he noted.

Since then the list of industry enhancements in ship design, itinerary planning, food and dining, shipboard technology and entertainment has continued to grow.

'I’ve been lucky to have been part of that … and I think it’s exciting, Sasso concluded. 'There have been so many, many incredible changes and I think what’s going to happen over the next 10 or 20 years could be even more remarkable than that. I just can’t wait to see what’s next.'