Market insight

Ask the office: how should operators bring younger generations aboard?

Millennials and gen-Xers may not seem like the most prominent demographic for cruise holidays - but could the tide be turning?  Joe Baker asked the Future Cruise office what young people want from a cruise holiday, and asks how operators can boost their appeal.  

In the past, cruise operators may not have had that much reason to attract younger customers with less cash to splash. However, recent studies have suggested that demand for cruise holidays is increasing among young people and operators need to start thinking about broadening their appeal.

In its 2018 Cruise Industry Consumer Outlook report, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) found that 85% of millennials expressed an increased interest in cruising, while its 2019 report found that Gen Z - typically people born in the 2000s - is expected to become one of the biggest consumer brackets in the next couple of years. Drivers for this, CLIA claim, include the appeal of multiple destinations and unique experiences, such as music festivals at sea.

With millennials expected to surpass boomers in population size in 2019, operators are responding to demand in a variety of ways. Royal Caribbean, for example, has already began running shorter cruises to tempt first-timers onto its vessels. Carnival Cruise Line has introduced adrenaline-pumping entertainment options such as SkyRide, which see passengers pedal around a racecourse suspended above the deck of its Carnival Vista vessel. And Norwegian Cruise Line is planning to introduce 11 additional ships through 2027 to accommodate a surge of younger customers flooding the market.

As it so happens, the team that brings you Future Cruise (and other esteemed NRi Digital publications) is largely made up of people who fit into the millennial and Gen X brackets. So, we thought we’d conduct an informal survey of 20 of our colleagues, from a variety of backgrounds, to find out whether the industry’s efforts are steering them towards booking a cruise in the future. The insights provided highlight a range of areas where operators may need to step up their game to appeal to younger passengers.

How likely are you to book a cruise in the next five years? Why?

"A cool way to travel to a few places without lots of flights and having to lug your luggage around! Can be relatively cheap because of deals and also all-inclusive meals."

“It looks fun. Plus, I have a full-time job now so I can afford it eventually.”

“I really like the idea of a cruise but they're very expensive.”

“Generally associate them with grandparents and, at least in my mind, they seem like quite an expensive holiday which largely confines you.”

“The expense is a big factor. I feel I can get more value for money with a standard hotel or Airbnb rental, and I don't love the idea of being tied down to a cruise ship for the majority of a holiday.”

“I don't think I'd be able to afford going on a cruise at the moment - and I much prefer the idea of taking a holiday to one location and soaking it up over a weekend, rather than hopping about.”

“I don't earn enough for a cruise to be a realistic holiday option, and if I did have the money I would rather spend it on a less structured and more culture-rich holiday.”

“The cost is hugely prohibitive, but there are many unappealing aspects as well. The rigorous structure to the trips, the fact you are stuck with the same group of people, and the hugely damaging environmental impact to main a few. Overall, they just look boring, expensive and morally dubious.”

“I don't really like organised / packaged holidays where the itinerary is set out for you. I also imagine cruise ships like shopping malls full of too many people and children - I like my holidays to be more quiet and away from the crowds.”

“Cruise ships are expensive holiday formats that often entail busy crowds and a noisy mix of children and seniors that would keep me from relaxing and enjoying my holiday.”

If you had to go on a cruise, what type of cruise would you go for? And where would you want to go?

“One that doesn't last more than a week I think, and maybe somewhere like the Arctic just because I don't know how else I'd ever get there. The Caribbean would be cool though.”

“I would go on one of those targeting my age demographic (millennial), possibly for a tour around the Mediterranean.”

“I like sunshine, hot weather and tropical surroundings, so it would be definitely a "summer cruise" to hot places - maybe also to some deserted islands.”

“Probably a river cruise - I like the idea of having plenty to see on either side of me as I go along, rather than just open water.”

“Probably to the extremes, either something that emphasises staying on board a lot and a real luxury experience or one that emphasises getting out and seeing the countries you're travelling past a lot. Probably somewhere sunny like the Caribbean or somewhere interesting like the Norwegian fjords.”

“A cruise that maximises freedom to explore destinations, and caters to people around my age without being a booze cruise. Scandinavia or the Mediterranean would be good for making lots of excursions, but I also think a cruise would be a great (and expensive) way to experience the Caribbean.”

“I'd probably go on a music festival type cruise, like the Salty Dog cruise which runs round the Caribbean.”

“[An] Amazon cruise to see the beauty, and Peru would be a great place to visit.”

If you were to consider booking a cruise, would a cruise operator’s environmental record play a role in your decision? Why?

“Absolutely, I'd like to know what's being done to prevent harmful emissions and how waste is handled.”

“Yes. The cruise industry is famous for its poor efforts in becoming more sustainable so an operator's positive environmental record would definitely be a plus for me.”

“If I could choose an eco-friendly cruise for a trip when I'm looking, [even if] it would be [more] expensive, I would definitely pick the better [one] for our planet.”

“Yes - minimising harmful emissions into the sea would be an important factor, as well as air quality for passengers onboard the ship. I wouldn't want to contribute to a cruise industry that has a major negative impact on the local environment at destinations.”

“Yes, although it would be secondary to other factors such as route, because if I was really worried about the environment I wouldn't go on a cruise at all.”

“I like to think I'd at least bear it in mind but cost would probably be the dominant factor. I'd look over it if only because of a slightly heightened awareness of how bad cruise ships generally have been for the environment.”

“Probably not. I would be more concerned about safety of the boat, given that recently some have begun to capsize in the recent past.”

“No, it's not something I've ever thought about, but I will now!”

What is the best thing that a cruise company could do to make you consider booking a cruise in the future?

“Ensure time on the ship is kept to a minimum and make it more about the destination.”

“They could offer more budget options in exciting locations with lots to do - a lot of operators seem to focus on making their ships more swanky, but I'd be much more interested in what's happening onshore than onboard.”

“Realign imagery to seem more appealing to younger consumers, [and] make the argument for why it's a well-priced way to travel.”

“A relatively short and less expensive option - maybe a river cruise - would be a good way to try out the format, and if I enjoyed that I'd consider booking something larger.”

“Lower their prices, run off of cleanly sourced power, and have some desirable entertainment.”

“Offer small, environmentally friendly, eco-conscious trips with a limited number of passengers and a strong focus on nature.”

“Prices tend to be too high, and [there’s a] perception of [cruise ships] being full of old people. Maybe put an age cap on some cruises.”

“Offer lots of freedom and opportunities to explore. I would also want a big cruise ship with lots of things to do. Also, amazing food.”