Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Avast behind and a dangerous future

The cruise industry is looking at 8-20% predicted growth but even as it does so, the sun is setting for the cruise.

The problem: The industry and its customers are aging. On the average ship three quarters of the passengers will be over 65 years old. This growth is fueled by the aging of the US and the UK.

The cruise is attracting people who grew up in the golden days of stylish and adventurous cruises of the 1930s to 60s and now find themselves with time and money to spare in their retirement.
But now this reliance on older passengers is steering the industry into dangerous waters. As the industry rushes to cater to today's older audience they are creating a very dubious future for the cruise:

A floating care home. That'll be just the image the industry needs.
As the people who can actually remember the glory days of cruises dwindle this is the image the new potential passengers inherit. Soon this will be the defining image of the cruise. And this is the danger amid the success. Yes, the UK and the US are an aging society so you're looking at increasing numbers of potential customers but we are now also an aging society in denial. Nobody wants to feel old, especially the elderly. Seniors are in revolt against relegation and ghettoisation. The cruise industry can cash in on this watery Logan's Run now but the new generation of senior citizens won't want to go - for a start they have second homes in Hawaii and Spain to go to, thank you. As for the younger consumer, their interest will be lost forever.

And we don't have to wait til then, the cruise today already is looking pretty elderly. Its aesthetics are all wrong. In the past the cruise industry represented glamour. Look what we have today:

Exhibit A: cruise liner names, reminiscent of pizza variants and drag queens. The language of attempted glamour, now rendered kitsch.

Exhibit B: the cruise liner offering - a floating Guildford. A provincial main street on water. Cruises replicate home in an age where people want new and exciting locations.

Glamour now belongs to destination hotels with names like Banyan Tree, W, St Martins Lane and The Met because which provide unique and stylish experiences.
Cruises need a major refit to regain their glamour. How about a week on a Philippe Starck designed cruise liner? Or floating through the Carribean in a chic Thai-style spa? Sounds more like it eh?

Next up Cruises need to rethink their offering to fit with today's lifestyle and make the most of the bound location. What will make staying on board make sense?Howw about self-improvement cruises? Weight loss cruises? Career mentoring cruises? Soap-opera marathon cruises? Plastic surgery cruises? Wellbeing cruises?

The cruise industry also needs new destinations. A vital part of cruises' past glamour were the exotic destinations. How about cruises to today's hip destinations?Morocco? Kerala? Iceland? New York? Tokyo? Shanghai? The cruise needs to rediscover its adventurous spirit.

And in the short term the cruise industry needs to find some cool friends. They should use co-branding to attract younger audiences and challenge the imagery around cruises. What about a FHM cruise? a Vogue Cruise? a Nike Cruise? a Ministry of Sound cruise? a Prada Cruise? a Play Station cruise? a Virgin (the brand, that is) cruise? They might not be long term loyalty builders but they would challenge people's preconceptions about who cruises are for.

Another approach: look to new markets
China's economy is booming and people are looking at new ways to spend an increasing disposable income. People are also looking for status and new experiences.
Cruises in the past rose with the emerging middle classes so why don't they follow the rise of new middle class in the East?

The Chinese want something exotic too and in China the Queen Mary 2 will be foreign and exciting. Play up the western heritage, keep prices high for exclusivity and status, make gourmet food your focus and fit karaoke rooms.
Say 'ni hao' to a younger audience and a lease of life.

There's two routes back to open water for cruises:

Change to be more enticing to the modern holiday maker or go east to find a new generation of admirers.
Otherwise the industry is looking at retirement and its own scrapyard care home.


jamesb said...

"cruise liner names, reminiscent of pizza variants and drag queens". :-D excellent exhibits!

the thing i don't quite comprehend is why the cruise is still so popular. younger people [i.e. under 45s] are apparently increasing in numbers! depressing. the other option, i guess is to continue down the kitsch route and create a floating extravaganza of tat.

i see what you mean said...

thanks James, god bless you for posting. And how about floating extravaganzas of pizza and drag queens? Actually, come to think of it that does sound pretty good ...

As for the aging, yes there is a drop in passenger average age, but do you have to let facts get in the way of a good argument? joking aside [nervous cough] I've delibrately decided to worry about the industry's focus on the aging demographic which is still identified by industry sources as the key market driver. I think this focus makes the big cruise companies less likely to innovate for fear of alienating this core. This in turn will have a negative halo effect for the companies trying to update which, to be fair, many are. Having said that I only know about the Flaming lips' cruise et al because of this project. where's the PR/media people here? Cruises can have it both ways if they can target their messages through appropriate media. Like Drag Queens n Pizza Lovers Monthly perhaps.

beeker said...

Now. We've got some sort of cruise club trio going on innit? Enjoyed reading both your answers enormously. The profile you brought to life here of the cruising massive is dastardly and masterly. Love it.

Camiel said...

in addition to weight loss cruises and plastic surgery cruises. I can remember stories about abortion cruises for the coast of Ireland.

This opens up a whole new range of opportunities. Law evading cruises.

i see what you mean said...

crack factory cruises? nuclear missile making cruises perhaps?
and beeker how about a cruise for planners talking about cruises?

russell said...

This is the third one I've read and I'm really excited by how good they all are.

Maybe blogging is a great tool for this kind of stuff, maybe it raises the bar so only the committed and talented play. Whatever, this is a fantastic response.

1. Great title. Funny. True. Genius.

2. Some really smart, evocative language and writing. Your exhibits - cruise ship names, floating Guildford, etc - distill the image problem perfectly and compactly. This is the kind of precise precis I'm always looking for, convey a wealth of meaning in a few sharp phrases. Brilliant.

3. Your solutions are sensible and smart - more exotic destinations, partnerships, re-design. These are all do-able and practical, my only quibble might be that they're not that startlingly original. They're ideas the cruise industry could probably have had without you. After the genius of the set-up they were a slight let-down. I get the impression you had more fun writing the first half than the second half.

4. Good rebound with the China thing though. When in doubt use something that you know more about than anyone else. That seems like a great, interesting and original idea.

Overall, fantastic stuff, Isee (can I call you Isee?) I'm hoping Grant will be along shortly with his thoughts.

grant said...

Your name analysis was laugh out loud funny, and as Russell noted, the prose is effortlessly clear, lift right off the screen into consciousness, great work, and yes, you are quite right to damn the data, it's the only way I keep my arguments in the shipping lane. Am doing a project in Shanghai and Beijing, please get in touch with me at Best, Grant

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cruise ship jobs said...

I don't think that the cruise industry has not performed well as it did a few years back. Considering the economic problems now, people are into something else like staying at home instead. But I do hope that in the future, it will be better and more and more people will enjoy the luxury of cruising.