THE tide is changing in the cruise industry. For many years, it was the vacation of choice for baby boomers, but now a new breed of traveler is taking to the water, and cruise companies are delighted to welcome them aboard.
Yet interestingly, it appears to be millennials pushing this growth. According to Skift, poll data from The 2017 ASTA How America Travels National Study found 32 percent of millennials took a cruise in the past five years, compared to 18 percent of boomers.
Elsewhere, there are similar reports. Passengers aged 20-39 made up 37 percent of the cruise source market in Asia in 2015, the primary feeder markets being China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines.
But this shift did not occur by chance.
Catering to a new generation
The industry is looking to the future. Cruise companies around the world are moving to refresh their image to entice younger travelers as older generations slow their pace.
One of the largest operators, Royal Caribbean International, embarked on this journey in 2015 with the launch of its “Come Seek” campaign, which focused on challenging common misconceptions about cruises.
Speaking to Travel Wire Asia, the brand’s corporate communications manager in Singapore and Southeast Asia Chin Ying Duan said: “We have placed a larger marketing and publicity focus on the wide array of unique and surprising experiences we offer on board our ships, on top of the unrivaled value they offer.”
Vessels, too, are changing to meet the needs and priorities of a younger market.
“In recent years, we have deployed larger ships to Singapore such as the Ovation of the Seas and the Mariner of the Seas, with more innovative features. They offer active-style entertainment and activities such as the Two70 show, surf simulator and ice skating rink, with virtually everything included in the cruise fare,” Chin said.
Whereas MSC Cruises has partnered with Samsung to encourage tech-savvy millennials to book a vacation on one of its new ships. These vessels promise state-of-the-art facilities such as in-cabin HDTVs, tablets as well as augmented reality mirrors.
Efforts to woo this generation appear to have paid off.
At Royal Caribbean, Chin confirmed a 20 percent increase in bookings made by this age group.
“As many younger travelers enjoy traveling in big groups, the idea of a hassle-free holiday with everything readily available on board the ship, such as food and entertainment, is a big draw to them.”
According to Chin, “young travelers are also attracted to holiday options with plenty of smart, high-tech offerings,” referring to their virtual balconies, Bionic Bar with robotic bartenders and 3D movies.
Analysis of social media chatter about cruises reported similar results, with millennials prizing quality entertainment, pocket-friendly packages and the chance to make new friends above all else. Boomers, on the other hand, preferred low-key entertainment and opted to relax alone or with family.
Staying relevant in a competitive travel industry may be one less problem for cruise companies to worry about, for now at least, but another looms large overhead.
With attention directed at courting the millennial market, there is a risk boomers could begin to feel alienated and prematurely retire from sea bound vacations.
Some suggest the key to a happy coexistence between the generations lies in uniting them in shared interests, but operators are yet to make such programs widely available.
A number of cruise companies do, however, try to balance the needs of different age groups, particularly when it comes to accommodation and amenities.