Once someone has taken a cruise, they will often come back time and again. Anthony Pearce looks at the changing demographics that cruise holidays appeal to, and how to tempt them on board
Five minutes was all it took. I was sat on deck, basking in the sun, beer in hand, watching the Kent coastline disappear beyond the ship’s wake and I realised that everything I’d thought and said about cruise was wrong. I’d always been dismissive of it as a holiday choice: I thought I would be bored, everything would be too regimented, the food would be bad, and I’d feel restricted by the lack of space. I’d even gently ribbed my parents when they booked their first cruise as they approached 60.
I didn’t understand why they, and two million other Britons, enjoy a cruise each year: but it’s fun, relaxing and often luxurious – a holiday like no other. My story is a familiar one (although being in my late 20s at the time, I was younger than most first-time cruisers): I tried cruise and I loved it, as most do.
Cruise has an incredibly high retention rate, but remains a relatively small part of the industry, which is why we often talk about the new-to-cruise – or yet-to-cruise – market. Many of these first-timers will become regular cruisers – it’s just a case of getting them on board. Here, we take a look at those who are yet to cruise in different demographics – from Baby Boomers to Gen Zers, as well as sectors such as luxury and adventure.
Much is made about the market of potential younger cruisers. It can sometimes seem a distraction given that most cruisers are older, but for the industry to grow it must look outside its normal demographics. According to Abta, the number of millennials (and Gen Zers) taking a cruise is growing. Its Holiday Habits report states that more than a quarter (28 per cent) of 18-34 year olds took a cruise in the year to July 2019, a six per cent rise. The actual numbers may not translate to that amount, but there is undoubtedly growing demand. Interestingly, more than a quarter (27 per cent) of 25-34 year olds who are interested in going on a cruise would like to take an expedition trip (see great adventures, below).
Cruise lines such as U By Uniworld and Virgin Voyages are specifically catering their products to this market, the former hosting silent discos and excursions based around street food, the latter with celebrity tie-ins such as music producer Mark Ronson, while there are even plans to put a vinyl record store and a tattoo parlour on board.
For older millennials with children, there are operators such as Holland America Line, which, with its excellent BB King’s Blues Club, interesting itineraries, kids’ clubs and excellent food, combine everything that’s great about cruise, but in a sophisticated way that cultural millennials will appreciate. As well as its famed Alaska cruises, Holland America Line also has cruises that take in Canada & New England (taking in the likes of Montreal, Halifax, and Quebec City) – an 11-day cruise starting at £919pp is great value. Sister brand Princess Cruises, although occupying a more traditional part of the market, again strikes a great balance, offering a great mix of fun, luxury and adventure.
Curiously, millennials may be a harder sell than Gen Zers, who are more likely to have experienced cruise ships as children. This is down to the relatively recent growth of the family sector and the theme-park-at-sea type ships, such as Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis and Quantum-class ships, which now dominate new-builds. While Gen Zers may be priced out of cruises for a while (unless travelling with their parents), they may be more likely to cruise at 30 than millennials have been.
The grey pound
While the likes of Virgin Voyages are trying to redefine what a cruise is, there are plenty of lines out there who are unashamedly aiming their cruises at an older market. It’s worth remembering that, even though over 60s are the most likely demographic to have cruised, the majority of people of that age are yet to try one.
With Saga having launched its boutique Spirit of Discovery (and with Spirit of Adventure on the way), ex-UK cruise options have never been stronger. Cruise & Maritime Voyages has reinvigorated the market by making great use of cruise ports up and down the country, whether that’s London Tilbury, Aberdeen, Belfast or Hull. Along with Fred Olsen Cruise Lines, which sails from Liverpool and Newcastle, its affordable cruises open up a whole new market. For customers with mobility issues these cruises are a stress-free way of travelling. According to the charity Scope, 45 per cent of pension-age adults are disabled in some way; cruise could be the perfect option for them.
Friends often tell me that they don’t fancy a cruise holiday, but like the idea of travelling by ship (but that is a cruise, I usually reply). These are often people who would be horrified by the idea of travelling around the Med on a mega-ship, but would love the chance to visit the Galápagos, Alaska, Antarctica or the Arctic Circle – destinations that you can’t really explore unless you’re going by ship. For those adventurous types who have graduated from backpacking to adventure touring, cruises make a lot of sense. Intrepid and G Adventures both now offer cruises as part of their portfolio, demonstrating how the demand for ship-based travel is growing among a younger and more active demographic. As we pointed out in our recent Adventure Guide, the sector is booming: guests can now join Australis in the Chilean fjords, Aurora Expeditions in Antarctica, Hurtigruten in northern Norway and UnCruise in Alaska.
There is also a growing trend for warm-sea adventure: Coral Expeditions in the Maluku Islands (formerly called the Spice Islands), or the likes of Aranui 5, a cargo ship that takes passengers around French Polynesia, while the likes of Cape Verde are now being explored. Silversea’s epic Expedition World Cruise further demonstrates the demand. Silver Cloud will depart Ushuaia, Argentina, on January 30, 2021 and, over 167 days, take in
107 ports of call in 30 countries across six continents – a total of 39,000 nautical miles.
Cruise lines in general are gravitating toward more active voyages – whether that’s yoga classes, bikes on river ships or hiking excursions, cruise has woken up the idea that not everyone wants to flop and drop.
The luxury sector is one of the fastest growing in cruise, with all the major protagonists, from Cunard to Uniworld, launching new ships over the next few years. Many first-time luxury cruisers graduate to luxury lines having cruised before. These are often empty nesters who are now paying for two guests, rather than four, and can afford to book a higher-end cruise. The likes of Seabourn will tell you that they also look outside former cruisers, targeting well-heeled travellers who book the best hotels on land and expect the same at sea.
The rise of yacht-style ships, pioneered by Seabourn and continued by Scenic, Crystal and, soon, Ritz-Carlton, provide an ultra-luxury experience at sea, which compares to any hotel experience on land. In fact, given the staff to guests ratio (sometimes as high as one-to-one), there is little on land that can compare. As Seabourn’s Lynn Narraway has written in Cruise Adviser: “Agent partners should be selling cruises as an ultra-luxury lifestyle experience, featuring incredible destinations, accommodation, dining and service, all rolled into one fabulous trip.”