June 29, 2016

Gap in the Market Volume 4 - The Cruise

by Malek Murison

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Cruise ship travel

After delving into a number of different market sectors, it makes sense that we now hop aboard the luxurious world of cruising and discover more about what is another growing travel industry niche. Gazing up at the epic cruise ships of today, it's easy to assume that the idea of travelling over water for the sake of it is a relatively modern concept. But it isn't. When you think about it, the pleasure cruise has been a constant throughout human history; from ancient Egyptians floating down the Nile to trips on the Thames for the Victorians.

For many people, a cruise offers the perfect balance of sunshine and lazy tourism. Many services offer full-day stops in picturesque locations, while the journey, depending on where you are in the world, is usually tailored to be as scenic as possible. On the face of it, an all-inclusive hotel break out on the open ocean, with all the luxury trimmings that you'd expect, is predictably popular among tourists across all demographics.

The numbers

At Travelshift, we know that it's no use just blurting out opinions and suggesting startups take the plunge in a certain market sector. Because of this, we do our best to look closely at the numbers. So how are things shaping up in the world of cruise travel? The following information was taken from ABTA's 2016 Travel Trends report. Some of the facts are attributed specifically to travellers from the UK, but it's probably fair to take some of the trends present at face value and assume they can be applied more broadly.

  • Cruises were a popular holiday choice in 2015, and 2016 should continue this positive trend. 13% of people are planning a cruise in the next 12 months!
  • As you might have already guessed, cruise trips are especially popular with holidaymakers aged 65 and over. 13% of that age group who travelled in 2015 took a cruise. Interestingly, it's not all about the oldies! People aged 25-34 answered the ABTA survey and 12% of holidaymakers in that group have taken a cruise in the last year.
  • Cruise companies must be doing something right. Much of the growth in the cruise sector can be attributed to returning passengers. This is because 80% of people who have been on a cruise want to go again.

This projected growth, along with the constant development of better cruise ships and the apparent return business that many  operators seem to enjoy, suggests that this is a travel niche you might want to get involved in. Let's take a closer look at what's in store for the industry in the years to come.


Cruise trends in 2016

Cruising is becoming more traveller-centric, and less about tourists

There's nothing wrong with a bit of fun in the sun. But modern travellers are looking to travel, not just to be tourists. And yes, there is a distinction between the two. Tourists seek selfies and suntans, travellers seek an experience. For this reason, cruise operators are beginning to offer more experiences alongside the standard scenic travel and day stops. Take Azamara, who set things in motion when it created overnight options for passengers, not just in pre- and post-cruise ports but also in interesting places visited mid-journey.

Seabourn offers something similar. The company has a handful of mid-cruise journeys off its ships to places that aren't easily accessed by ocean vessels. If you like you can, during a cruise along India's coast, get off in Cochin and fly to Agra to visit the Taj Mahal before rejoining the later down the route. Seabourn Ventures allow passengers to kayak among the glaciers in some of their Antarctic routes. These opportunities are the difference between being a tourist and being a traveller.

River cruising

At the opposite end of the cruising spectrum, you'll find river trips. River adventures particularly, are key to the continued growth of the cruise market and are increasingly popular with younger passengers. For those who don't enjoy the open ocean and want to see more of a country during the trip, a river cruise offers a perfect, often luxurious alternative.

According to ABTA's 2016 trends report, long-haul river trips, as well as those in Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Peru, are all expected to be thriving river cruise destinations in 2016.

Cruise operators are working hard to keep passengers connected

In an increasingly connected world, many passengers aboard cruise ships don't want to be completely dislocated from home - even when they're on holiday. Because of this, cruise operators have made significant investments in technologies that make internet while at sea faster and cheaper. Many lines have moved on from the old pay-per-minute system, and now instead offer package plan, giving passengers easy access to social media and emails. Plans can normally be purchased for a single day, or before you set sail for the whole cruise. Some operators, such as Viking Oceans, have scrapped costly Wi-Fi completely by offering free, unlimited access to all passengers.

cruise travel p&O
Like many operators, P&O offer all the comforts of home and more.

Small ships are gaining traction

Cruising doesn't have to be aboard an enormous ship, where passengers march around like ants on a giant yet lonely vessel. The appeal of smaller cruise ships is beginning to grow, not only because the trips offered often come cheaper, but also because it allows for a social element that can easily get lost out at sea amongst the throng of the crowds.

Yes, both large cruise liners and smaller ships stop off in undiscovered ports and can offer intimate, service-oriented onboard experiences, but small-ship cruises rarely charge as much. According to Cruise Critic, there's plenty of growth in smaller-style cruising. Without needing to cater to the masses, providers in this sphere can offer softer adventure and generally more exotic itineraries.

An opportunity within an opportunity?

There are several niches within the cruise industry, from trips in terms of destination, to what passengers can expect in terms of luxury and alternative experiences. Take the luxury travel sector, for example. A blossoming sector is beginning to grow at the border between wellness and luxury, with agencies offering cruises for the sole purpose of being a spa getaway at sea. There are also clear opportunities should you wish to target a specific demographic. As we have seen, younger travellers are more likely to want to engage with local cultures and genuine experiences.

With enough drive and our help and expertise, you could easily set up a marketplace to tailor to a specific region or offering within the cruise industry.

Where Travelshift comes in

In case you didn't know, here at Travelshift we specialise in providing ambitious travel startups with marketplace software solutions. Our marketplace software has already had unparalleled success, growing GuideToIceland into one of Iceland's largest travel services providers. But we have realised that our software has an incredibly broad range of potential applications. If you want to create a marketplace from scratch and start dominating your chosen niche, you're in the right place.

Travelshift software pretty much does all of the hard work for you. Included are tools for community building, a blogging platform, inventory, reservation and distribution systems, unique content marketing features, and proprietary SEO tools. In short, we've got you covered. All you need to do is attract startups and small businesses within your chosen niche to come and set up in your marketplace. Shouting louder than the travel giants isn't easy, but together, it's certainly possible.