What is the future of cruising? The view of Cruise CEOs versus Travellers
As I took my seat to listen to a panel discussion that promised to reveal the future vision for cruising, I looked at the panel who were already seated. From what I saw, I feared I was going to hear a staid corporate business plan perspective of cruising – rather than inspired crystal ball gazing. The group consisted of a set of serious looking, middle aged, dark suited, middle aged men who run major cruise lines in Europe. The stage was at ITB Berlin, the world’s largest travel show. The promise was that they would tell us what the future of the cruise industry over the next 10 years will be. From what I could see we were looking at a group of corporate “suit” types, the type that I have been used to dealing with throughout my business and marketing career. A thrilling, inspiring reveal is not normally forthcoming from such a crowd.
Cruising has been through a boom. It has gone from being a marginal side show in travel to a major mainstream travel choice. People of all ages now consider it as an option, even if they finally decide not to go on one. As cruising becomes more mainstream it also, in my view, risks drifting towards becoming a more homogenised product and experience. Most cruise brands are owed by just 2 mega corporations (Carnival and Royal Caribbean) and the pressures on driving out costs, and the need to fill the increased capacity on the seas through the tough economic conditions is leading to appealing to a broad target. It is at real risk of creating a similar and consistent cruise experience across all brands. Even lines as quirky and historic as Cunard are being seen by loyalists as become more mainstream in offering and service.
I believe for cruising to keep and retain me as a loyal passenger that the future of the cruise industry needs to be in much more differentiation and segmentation. They need to create and attract more specific like-minded passengers who are seeking distinct experiences at sea onto different ships.
The disappointing thing for me was that the cruise line leaders did not paint a vision of cruising that shared this vision, but were more focused on geographic expansion and less about innovation. They spoke about things like growing cruising through:
- “Normalisation” of cruising as a real consideration for all holiday makers
- “Connecting” with the sea with more balcony cabins
- Getting European cruise taking levels to the same as in the USA
- Running more one off “theme” cruises, like heavy metal or other music themes to attract interest groups that had not been on a cruise to go onto ships
- Getting more “Eastern” travellers into ships, both from East Europe and Asia (especially China)
As a passenger I want more about the experience. I want more differentiation to meet my needs, so I find myself on-board a ship surrounded by like minded passengers who like exactly what I do. I want the ships to be different, unique and more tailored to my interests, lifestyle and pocket. Travelling on the QE2 transatlantic was thrilling as it was a once-off liner and the people who travelled on it were passionate about being at sea, reliving the tradition of crossings, enjoyed the ceremony, loved the heritage the formality and dressing up. There has to be the same opportunity to create and attract more mainstream interest groups through more differentiated cruise brands and ships.
I am a fan of Cunard and their ships. I find the Britishness, White Star Service and the link to the past through the Queens Grill, Princess Grill and Britannia classes appealing. I like that the Queen Mary 2 is a once off ship, and the only ocean liner versus cruise ship. It is different but fear that it is drifting towards a more normal cruise experience with recent ships. I am really looking forward to trying the independent owned MSC Mediterranean Cruise line to see if they are creating something distinctive and different.
There is a risk that the cruise industry is in danger of chasing the easy wins. Those liked by the accountants and grey suited managers instead of by consumer visionaries and innovators. The future of cruising needs real differentiation and vision.
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