As director general of CLIA in Europe, Marie-Caroline Laurent has quite a job on her hands. She tells Cruise Trade News what her background in transport and current affairs can bring to the cruise sector, and why engagement is top of the priority list.
“Cruise is the epitome of the complexity of transport,” says Marie-Caroline Laurent. “You have a ship and mode of transport, entertainment, and hospitality, and you have the destination, local policies, and local communities. It’s a complex environment to manage and to grasp.”
After a few months in the job, Laurent seems to have hit the ground running, but she is not afraid to face up to the tasks that currently occupy her working days, not least that “complexity”.
The director general for CLIA in Europe only joined the association toward the end of 2021 but was soon thrust into the deep end.
“It has been an extremely busy few months,” she continues. “Day two of me joining CLIA, I flew to Madrid for a conference to meet the whole community, going to see the key markets, which was amazing… it was a very hands-on introduction to the job. Then, of course, Omicron hit, so we were all sent back home.
“The silver lining was that it showed the robustness of our [health and safety] protocols. There were obviously a few cases [of the virus] picked up in the news, but overall, operations continued, with people cruising safely.”
How cruise can open up
A likeable and passionate character, Laurent previously worked in leadership roles at the International Air Transport Association for nearly a decade, including a stint as assistant director for EU Affairs.
She has also worked in policy development for the Association of European Airlines, and as a parliamentary adviser at the European Parliament and as senior policy officer at the American Chamber of Commerce to the EU, before joining CLIA.
This level of experience should serve her well in cruise, not least in terms of communicating the needs of the sector to those in the corridors of power. “It’s about talking on a national level; having a more regulatory engagement in the dialogue,” she says.
“Maybe what is missing sometimes is how we communicate. We have much to be proud of including the advances we have made. My hope is that we open up to other type of sectors, speaking to regulators and the external world about what we’re doing.”
She adds: “My goal is really to help the industry structure its message, talking to the external world, fitting to the regulatory challenges and local political expectations.
“We have done – and are doing – a million of good things. So, now we focus on how we structure that into a consistent message. Having a structure will help us be more transparent and visible, in terms of what we do and where we want to go.”
But how will that be achieved? “I think it’s about access,” she explains. “With the challenges of decarbonisation [for example], the industry is now cooperating more with regulators and local destinations. We’re still in the middle of that transformation.”
It will, as Laurent agrees, take time to break down any barriers, but this aforementioned transformation is “accelerating”, she believes.
“Covid forced everyone to speak to each other. Suddenly, you had to speak to the local health authorities and the national health minister. Before, there was not necessarily this daily and very intense dialogue.
“The same thing goes for decarbonisation; cruise lines are in line with international objectives. We have concrete targets that will fundamentally change the way we cruise, in the sense of having new ships putting the focus on reducing emissions.
“I am surprised, to be honest, how quickly the discussions are coming back. Every day we are talking with destinations on how to best plan for operations in the coming years.”
How CLIA will support decarbonisation plans
This future, as Laurent has already described, will bring success to those who one, tackle the sustainability challenge head on, and two, invest in emission-reducing technologies and climate-friendly policies.
“In terms of priorities for this year, let’s look at the short-term elements,” she says. “Indeed, it’s the decarbonisation framework.
“Today, in Europe, we only have seven per cent of the cruise berths equipped, or to be equipped, within the next three years, with shoreside electricity, which is a tiny portion of what we need.
“How do we make sure the investments are there? Same thing for liquefied natural gas, which is still a fossil fuel, nobody can deny that, but is still one of the main solutions to achieve immediate and short-term reductions.
“The ultimate end goal is synthetic fuel, synthetic LNG with alternative fuels to support zero emissions. Discussions are happening now in terms of the legal framework for this.”
There is also the immediate future to ponder, as Laurent clarifies. “We’re not yet out of the Covid crisis. We expect, especially over the next six months, to be focused on what the new health protocols should be, as we see more and more countries coming back to normal.
“What does it mean for cruising? What will be the conditions for operations this summer in Europe? We are still very much focused on that, trying to understand what’s the best approach for the safety of passengers, taking into account the evolution of the virus.”
On a personal level, the sector is, of course, still new to Laurent. Her background in transport provides a firm grounding, but cruise has its own distinct feel and format.
“One of the key differences I’ve seen between aviation and cruise is that cruise is extremely flexible – ships are bound to the sea and discovery – whereas an airline operates to a strict schedule,” Laurent says.
“This freedom has benefits, but some challenges. Does it impact your engagement with a destination? We need to have this principle of engagement with destinations, so everybody knows what their concerns and interests are, and how we can find practical solutions.”
With Laurent at the helm, it’s a fair bet that those solutions will be found.
Illustration: Phil Couzens