Experiential cruising: the holidaymaker’s choice, by Phil Evans

Experiential cruising: the holidaymaker’s choice, by Phil Evans

In recent years, attitudes to cruising have shifted thanks to the industry transforming itself to keep up with modern travel trends. There is no longer a ‘traditional’ or ‘core’ customer base for cruising as the industry now appeals to such a variety of travellers – from families and couples to those seeking intrepid adventures. Similarly, there is no longer the outdated perception that travellers might get ‘stuck’ on a ship with nothing to do. Competition within the cruise sector – and against the rest of the travel sector more generally – has driven innovations which have kept cruising as a fresh and exciting holiday option.

Gone are the days when cruise holidays were solely about the ship; the rise of experiential travel has led to an increasing focus on the destinations and the unique experiences available. For example, it’s not unusual for a Mediterranean cruise to visit a new port almost every day of the sailing, reducing the number of sea days and giving on board guests a more immersive experience of the region. It has long been the belief that cruise lines want to have more sea days in the itinerary to encourage guests to book spa treatments, shop in the onboard boutiques and purchase more drinks. However, cruise lines now understand that by offering a variety of land excursions to their passengers, they can create a mutually beneficial experience which is rewarding for their guests, local tenders and also their business.

Cruise lines are adopting the travel trends of new generations, namely millennials who seek authentic and raw experiences which until recently, were not the type of activity you’d be likely to associate with a cruise holiday. At Cruise Nation, we’ve noticed a growing trend of spending more on travel and visiting more destinations than the traditional one holiday a year. Cruising is well prepared to meet this increased demand in travel with its ability to comfortably transport guests to a selection of destinations and see a variety of cultures without needing to spend a fortune on rail or air fares. For this reason, ready-made cruise-and-stay packages with multiple destination stops and unique onboard and onshore experiences have helped introduce a completely new – and younger – audience to cruising.

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Not only does experiential cruising give cruise lines and tour operators the opportunity to attract a broader customer base but it also allows holidaymakers to gain a greater understanding of the countries they are visiting. These experiences appeal to all types of travellers from families to culture vultures and adrenaline junkies.

The rising trend of experiential cruising has resulted in a more diverse product that can be tailored to the interests and needs of each customer. For example, Viking River Cruises offers a ‘culture curriculum’ with their Imperial Jewels of China cruise where guests can immerse themselves into Chinese culture by learning basic Chinese, hone their tai-chi skills and even attend lectures about the Yangtze River and Three Gorges Dam. Norwegian Cruise Line offers an excursion on its Hawaii itineraries which is perfect for nature-lovers. It’s possible to visit ‘Garden Isle’ where guests can explore Kauai’s stunning 3,000-foot deep Waimea Canyon while taking in the lush landscapes that line the Wailua River including the emerald-green Fern Grotto. Regent Seven Seas has also honed in on the rise of experiential cruising by offering unlimited shore excursions as part of their packages.

At Cruise Nation, we’ve noticed a huge demand for opera tickets, such as Aida, with our cruise-and-stay ‘Smart Packages’ to Verona as well as our Ice and Fire and Canada and New England cruises which include scenic Amtrak rail experiences and visits to points of interest like Niagara Falls. As well as adding value to our cruise holidays, these experiences give our customers the opportunity to make new memories and create new stories to tell.

In light of the rising trend of experiential travel, we’ve teamed up with excursion specialist Tripashore to ensure customers can book the high-quality, unique experiences they desire while their ship is in port. This could be anything from walking tours and boat trips to tasting authentic cuisine in a traditional restaurant or seeing natural wonders such as volcanoes and waterfalls. As our official shore excursion partner, Tripashore is helping us to source the very best experiences and integrate these into our website for customers to seamlessly add to their holiday package.

With the continual broadening of the cruise market, it is an exciting time for cruise lines and tour operators. Staying ahead of the demand for increasingly innovative experiential offerings will allow the cruise industry to keep up with the needs of the modern traveller. The sector is developing all the time and we’re looking forward to seeing what cruise lines have up their sleeve to keep cruising ‘fresh’ and attractive for new-to-cruise customers as well as the loyal pre-existing base of enthusiasts.

Phil Evans is MD of Cruise Nation

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