Executive view: Natalya Leahy, president of Seabourn Cruises

Natalya Leahy is president of Seabourn Cruises.

I think everyone knows this has been a challenging year as regards the economy, right? And obviously there are some geopolitical challenges that impact the travel industry specifically. Nonetheless, in most markets, we've seen increasing numbers of travelers, and that continues to be the trend.

We are in the ultraluxury category, and affluent travelers have always stayed significantly more resilient to the ups and downs of economic challenges. Seabourn is seeing record bookings for 2024, so we are incredibly pleased in terms of pacing and demand.

The U.S. market has been very, very strong. Around 100,000 guests sail with us every year, and the U.S. is our largest market. There are 22 million people in the U.S. who would be qualified, from a socioeconomic perspective, to experience Seabourn. The U.K., which is our next-largest market, has another 3 to 4 million.

I was reading a McKenzie report that said 37% of respondents are planning to splurge and spend more next year. But the economy still has some volatility, and people will pay attention to the value of their vacation. Even in a recession, cruises would offer the best value in luxury travel because everything is included. It is significantly attractive to the affluent.

The political situation and conflict in the Eastern Mediterranean is creating challenges across industries. We all have exposure, and we had to do a number of redeployments for our voyages in 2023 and 2024. Obviously, it's an incredibly sad situation, and sad for us not to be able to take our guests to Israel.

But the cruise industry has more agility to navigate through these geopolitical challenges because we have assets that move. From that perspective, we are better positioned than land resorts.

We've just had a very successful quarter. There is demand for cruising and increasing booking volume, which can drive price elasticity in our favor.

We're offering new, improved experiences across the fleet. Our restaurant menus and in-suite menus have been updated, and we're also excited that, next month, we'll be launching our new fine dining Mediterranean restaurant, Solis. We also have Starlink connectivity on the expedition ships and will have it across all the fleet within the next couple months.

And, we have created a dedicated destination experience department with the goal of giving guests more bespoke, small-group, private ultraluxury experiences in destinations, including some pre- and post-cruise experiences.
It's true that we're experiencing a little bit of softness in the Eastern Med due to the geopolitical situation, but we have some unique itineraries in, for instance, Dubrovnik, Croatia, that have been very popular, and demand is quite strong for the Western Med.

In the Caribbean, more than half our guests on Seabourn are from the U.K., and we've seen very, very strong demand. In fact, [there is] strong demand for the Caribbean across all the Carnival Corp. brands.

Last year, we had our most successful season ever in Alaska. There is very, very high demand for Alaska cruising.
And we're launching some Japan destinations, not only in spring but also in fall, and the destination is included in our world cruises. We're also visiting new areas of Australia, including bringing an expedition ship to the Kimberleys.

People think of expeditions as going to cold regions, but there are warm-water expedition cruises, as well.

We're really seeing strong demand for expedition cruises. From 2016 to 2018, expedition ship capacity has more than doubled. Our expedition ships have the highest guest scores in the fleet, and we're seeing that, in the U.S. market, expedition cruising has also become a gateway to bring new people into cruising. Around 50% of the guests on our expedition ships are new to the brand, and it's probably safe to assume that a large percentage are new to cruising, as well. They're starting with expedition because those ships go to their bucket-list destinations. Then, they book a lot more cruises. One guest who I met on the Venture and who had never cruised before just texted me that she booked four more cruises within three months after sailing with us.

We are not yet seeing any impact from 2024 being an election year. We have strong promotional campaigns and offers out there right now to entice guests to engage with the brand and plan their experiences now. And, generally speaking, I'm seeing a lot longer deployment cycles for us. We have two years of deployments available, which allows people to plan ahead and, as a result, the booking curve has changed.

Across [Carnival Corp.] brands, it has increased by two months above the four-year historical average. That's the best way to mitigate this type of forecasted challenge.

This interview was conducted by Arnie Weissmann.

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