It wasn't the millions of passengers or the billions of dollars of revenue that cruise industry leaders wanted to talk about Tuesday at Cruise Shipping Miami, the world's largest cruise industry convention.
Their primary target? That vacationer who has never been on a cruise.
Leaders of the world's four top cruise lines told an audience of 2,200 at the Miami Beach Convention Center that the biggest challenge — and greatest opportunity — is getting more people to cruise for the first time. Once people take a cruise, they are five times more likely to take one than someone who has never cruised, said Richard Fain, chairman of Miami-based Royal Caribbean Cruises.
"The trick here is to really communicate to the new-to-cruise, because that's where the action is" for future business, said Arnold W. Donald, president and chief executive of Miami-based Carnival Corporation & PLC, the world's largest cruise company spanning many brands and more than 100 ships.
Florida shines as the centerpiece of the world's cruise industry, serving as headquarters for many lines and also, as the starting point for many trips to the Caribbean, the world's most popular cruise destination.
The industry's economic impact is enormous worldwide and locally.
Globally, the cruise industry represented roughly $100 billion in output, $33 billion in wages and 777,000 jobs in 2012 — and even more last year, said Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which represents lines with more than 95 percent of industry capacity.
In the United States, the cruise industry accounted for $7 billion in direct spend, 131,000 jobs and more than 6 million embarkations in 2012, with Florida the top state by far for the business, said CLIA.
Surveys show most passengers are attracted to cruises for their value. Cruise lines can't charge much more, because demand is not growing fast enough to fill all the existing ships and the new ones being added, said Kevin Sheehan, CEO at Norwegian Cruise Line based in the Miami area.
"There's been no real pricing in this industry for 20 years, or as long as I've been here," said the straight-talking Sheehan, encouraging the industry to better communicate the joys of cruising to the uninitiated.
Recent problems with select ships — the grounding of the Costa Concordia in Italy in 2012 and a fire on the Carnival Triumph in 2013 — turned some people off from cruises. But industry leaders said the incidence of problems is minimal, and they're working more with the media to explain that context.
Outbreaks of norovirus — which can cause stomach ailments, for example — affect roughly 6 percent of people on land but less than 1 percent at sea, said Carnival's Donald. But ships must report the virus, while others don't, he said.
Social media and new technologies also make it more important than ever to get business right.
"Today, if someone has a backed-up commode in a cabin, they can "You Tube" it," said Donald.
The cruise lines are using social media to spread the joy of cruising and lure customers among millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000. Switzerland-based MSC Cruises already has more than 2.3 million Facebook fans and its own You Tube channel, said Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago.
"Technology will help us to transmit this message to bring in more newcomers," Vago said.
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Global cruising by the numbers
Passengers: 21.3 million estimated in 2013; 21.7 million projected in 2014
Top passenger source countries: US: 52 percent; UK/Ireland: 8 percent; Germany: almost 8 percent.
Industry investment: $7.2 billion in 2013-14
Global fleet: 410 ships (including river cruises) with 467,629 beds in 2014
New ships: 29 with 34,000-plus beds in 2013-14; 20 more with 52,000-plus beds in 2015-18
Where passengers go: Caribbean: 34 percent; Mediterranean: 22 percent; Europe: 11 percent in 2013
Why consumers cruise: Value, 87 percent; Destinations, 78 percent; 76, cruise brand reputation, 61 percent home port; 39 percent, lifestyle amenities
Source: Cruise Lines International Association, which represents lines offering more than 95 percent of the world's cruise ship capacity; Data from CLIA cruise line member survey and CLIA travel agent survey.