Cruising ahead in the peak wave season
The cruise industry is broadening its international horizons and working harder to satisfy customers. A big part of this is delivering on content
As the so-called ‘wave season’ - the peak booking and marketing period for cruise lines and passengers – swells, there are growing opportunities for a sector once associated mainly with travel for the retired generation.
According the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), 24m passengers are set to embark on a cruise holiday globally in 2016 - up from 15m in 2006. And it’s not just the elderly who are setting sail. In the UK, bonvoyage.co.uk says there has been a 38% increase in the number of 18-30 year olds booking cruises over the past year.
Indeed, worldwide, the cruise industry has seen annual passenger compound growth rates of 6.55% from 1990, and this is expected to continue until 2019. One major boon for the industry is the growth coming from China. In its 2016 China Cruise Industry Trend Forecast, online travel firm Ctrip projects that the capacity of China’s cruise ports will grow more than 80% in 2016 and the number of passengers boarding cruises will exceed 2m, a number that includes departures from Hong Kong.
To help meet this growing demand, more ships are being built. In 2015, there were seven with a total passenger capacity of 18,813. However, between 2016 and 2017, 15 more new cruise ships will come online adding 39,637 to worldwide passenger capacity, and generation $3.6bn in annual revenue.
So far the growth strategies being witnessed have included: larger capacity new builds and ship diversification, more local ports, more destinations and new on-board/on-shore activities that match the needs of the increasingly demanding consumer.
MSC Cruises, for example, the world’s fourth-largest cruise travel operator, recently announced a global partnership with Samsung to deliver a new generation of seven new ‘smart’ cruise ships. MSC wants to double passenger capacity in the next few years, and part of this involves investing £20m in new multi-media entertainment lounges, as well as specially customised stages tailored to accommodate shows from another recent partner, the Cirque du Soleil.
It seems these investments may be worth it, as in the cruise sector, there are high numbers of repeat bookers. Research carried out found that of those people who had taken a cruise, 88% would do so again.
The rise of cruise search
Recognising the potential growth of the market (just 24% of the US population, for example, has taken a cruise), are number of focused cruise search and content websites. Among those Cruise Critic, the largest cruise news and search site, Cruiseable and Cruise Fever.
ShermansCruise, which was launched in December by ShermansTravel Media, is the latest resource for researching cruise lines, ships and itineraries, as well as cruise deals, insider advice, expert reviews and personalised content.
Unlike traditional sites, says ShermansCruise CEO David Steward, it allows users to input preferences. For example: will they cruise solo, as a couple, family or group; do they like a relaxing, pampering, partying, educational or enriching trip.
Based on the user’s response, the site's Navigatr technology, a real-time recommendation engine, matches them with the best cruise ship and itinerary, provides pricing information and then links them to the cruise line or an agent to book.
According to Steward, other cruise information sites in the industry aren't using this type of search mechanism.
In keeping with trends elsewhere in the industry ShermansCruise is harnessing the power of user-generated content. Social media content is integrated throughout the site, highlighting the voices of real cruisers and their experiences via photos and posts, all in real time. In what is has coined, ‘social buzz’, ShermansCruise curates timely posts from social media channels and shares them on the site, a contemporary and refreshing alternative to traditional lengthy and dated user reviews.
So what the firm has aimed to do make content visually driven, easily digestible, and modern in look and feel. Original video helps to bring the cruising experience to life and helps users differentiate, for example, between cabin options, line-owned private islands in the Caribbean, and more.
Ultimately the more ‘buzz’ you can create about a travel experience, the greater the opportunity to increase the numbers of people wanting to try a new experience – and why not an ocean cruise?