In one week’s time, Australia’s leading cruise lines will announce another amazing record for an industry that, just a few years ago, looked as if it was about to sink without trace.
Cruise holidays were once believed to be the domain of “the newly wed and the nearly dead”.
And after plumbing the depths with “booze cruises” that led to the notorious death of a female passenger in extremely sordid circumstances, it was hard to see how it could be refloated.
This week, research showed just how wrong those who wrote off cruise holidays could be.
Adrian Vasile, associate director, travel and tourism at Nielsen research, says more than half of Australians are now considering a cruise holiday.
And when the great and good of cruise gather at the NSW Parliament later this month, they are likely to hear that the number of cruise passengers taking to the seas has once again exceeded all expectations.
A few years ago, cruise line executives reckoned it would take until 2020 to reach one million Australian cruisers. They did that last year.
Now they have reset their calculations to say Australia could get to reach two million cruise passengers by 2020. But if the estimates are right, and we were at over 1.2 million in 2015-16, they are likely to have to recalibrate once again.
Vasale believes the growth is advertising driven.
He says: “Over the past four years, advertising spend from cruise operators has seen a 58 per cent increase.
“At the current pace of growth, advertising dollars could reach $79 million in 2017.”
“Spend allocated to international cruises are the wind in its sails, with year-on-year increases of 12% and 18% in 2015 and 2016, respectively. “
The majority of the spend was in print.
He is partially right.
What has really driven the amazing popularity of cruise is a combination of fantastic product change and strong marketing.
The cruise product has come a long way. Today, cruise ships are home to fabulous food from celebrity chefs, amazing technology the likes of which hotels and resorts can only marvel at, and activities that put many theme parks to shame.
Top all of that with amazing service, terrific events and great destinations – all served up at astonishing prices – and you have a combination that has finally broken through the mistaken messages of the past.
Our magazine, Cruise Passenger (cruisepassenger.com.au), is 21 years old this year. We’ve seen some of the magnificent technology and amazing marketing that has taken cruise to an enviable place in travel.
Lines like Royal Caribbean, Princess, Crystal and our own P&O and Scenic have pioneered mind-boggling new products.
Scenic, a one-time coach operator, now leads the world in new river cruise product in France and Germany (and on the Mekong in Asia), and next year launches an expedition yacht with helicopters and submarines that is at the forefront of its class.
Princes and Royal Caribbean will soon be battling it out in Australia with two of the biggest and most modern ships we have ever seen.
The Ovation of the Seas is a spectacular vessel, with on board activities and food offerings to rival any luxury resort. The Majestic Princess has Michelin starred restaurants and the largest branded shopping mall at sea.
These are billion dollar ships – and investing in them is not for the feint hearted. As Adam Goldstein, President of Royal Caribbean told us recently:
“When I build a ship, it can be five years out and cost one billion dollars. Who knows what the economy will be like when she is launched.”
But the most remarkable part of this astonishing transformation has been getting the message across to a new generation of families.
The brands aboard Majestic Princess ‘s shopping mall include Channel, Bulgari, Burberry Coach and Prada. They would not be associating their highly valuable trademarks with anything they felt was not the epitome of luxury.
Which goes to prove that finally, cruising has made a come back and can now be considered truly cool!
And the message: you’ll win the marketing war when the products right – and the message is told through the right channels.