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Cruising into the Future

Peter Yesawich

The results of the brand-new MMGY Global 2016 Portrait of American Travelers® reveal that the global cruise industry is about to enjoy unprecedented growth in demand from US leisure travelers despite lingering concerns about discretionary spending in the aftermath of the Great Recession and increasing anxiety about the perceived safety of travel. In fact, barring any unforeseen degradation of the US economy precipitated by another meltdown on Wall Street, or a traumatic terrorist event, prospective demand for cruise vacations should drive the industry’s embarkation numbers from the US to record levels during the next two years.

Here’s why:

  • 12% of active US leisure travelers (those who took at least one overnight trip primarily for leisure purposes during the past 12 months) took at least one cruise vacation last year (by way of comparison, 18% took a theme park vacation, and 11% took a vacation to an all-inclusive resort). Fully 56% of active US leisure travelers express interest in taking a cruise vacation during the next two years, however, suggesting there is considerable potential demand to be cultivated…and converted.
  • Although cruising has traditionally been viewed as a preferred vacation alternative for mature travelers (age, not behavior!) and Boomers (50–68 years of age), Millennials have overtaken their older counterparts in both taking cruises (18% have done so during the past 12 months) and interested in taking one during the next two years (66%). This is particularly noteworthy…and encouraging…as Millennials represent the largest generational cohort of active travelers today.
  • Half of traveling grandparents (54%) are interested in taking a cruise during the next two years. This underscores the considerable potential that exists to market cruise vacations to “multi-generational” families (grandparents, parents and grandchildren), and represents a market segment from which demand is destined to continue to grow in the future because the median age of the US population is rising (hence, more adults will soon find themselves among the ranks of grandparents).
  • Cruising also appears to be a particularly attractive “Celebration Vacation,” or one that is motivated by the achievement of an important “life event.” The latter includes such things as marriage, college graduation, retirement, or a “milestone” birthday or anniversary (one divisible by five, such as a 25th wedding anniversary). This is a also an important insight because Celebration Vacations typically are planned much further ahead, are longer in duration, include more participants and are exempt from many traditional budgetary constraints. Translation: those who take them typically spend more.
  • Over a third (36%) of travelers who are interested in taking a cruise during the next two years plan to use the services of a traditional travel agent to make the arrangements, and almost a quarter (22%) generally book cruises through a traditional travel agent.
  • The evolving media habits of prospective cruisers reaffirm the importance of funding advertising schedules that include both offline (television) and online (web and social) components, as each plays an important role in moving prospective cruisers from “inspiration” to “booking.” And as noted in the survey results, the aggregate average time adults who are interested in cruising now spend online (for all purposes) daily exceeds the average amount of time they spend watching television.
  • Exposure in social media will play an increasingly important role in cultivating future demand from leisure travelers who are interested in a future cruise vacation, as over half (56%) visit online communities and blogs seeking information about destinations and travel service providers, and fully six out of ten (62%) of travelers interested in taking a cruise that consult online reviews trust the reviews posted by other travelers more so than the product and experience reviews authored by institutional sources.

So, all in all, it appears the near-term itinerary for the cruise industry calls for smooth sailing.

For more actionable insights from the MMGY Global Portrait of American Travelers®, or subscription information, please visit our Research page. For a sneak peek into 2016 research, view our infographic.

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