August 22, 2017, by Gilad Berenstein, CEO of Utrip
Last week, I had the pleasure of sitting down with three cruise industry veterans to discuss the future of the industry and the relationship the successful cruise line of tomorrow will have with its guests. We had a fascinating discussion on a wide array of topics all centered on the future of the cruising experience.
Below are three of my favorite takeaways from the conversation.
Where the Cruise Industry is Heading
and How Cruise Lines Can Adapt
- Cruise lines must become more technology focused to improve the customer experience
This is a big overarching theme across the industry right now. The customer’s digital experience has not changed in quite some time. If you go to a few different websites to look at cruise packages, chances are they all look and work the same: input where you want to go, your dates, your cabin type, etc. and boom -- a long list of options appears. Today’s digitally-savvy consumer wants more. Travelers want to explore multiple destinations, to read reviews, to watch videos and to learn much more before determining the final details.
A long-time digital marketing executive for a major cruise line mentioned that in the past it was all about story telling. Today, it’s no longer about a brand’s story but rather the customer’s discovery and creation of his/her own story.
It’s important to remember that the modern consumer is always shopping but rarely buying. Shopping and discovery are now one and the same. We use websites to inspire us, but that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re going to make a purchase. That’s a major change from the old model, when travelers used to call travel agents or airlines to make bookings for us.
Given this consumer trend, cruise lines must use technology to engage travelers throughout the travel lifecycle, before and after the actual purchase. If your brand, destination or offering is not in a consumer’s mind at the beginning of the process, you can be sure that it won’t be at the end either.
Cruise lines currently focus their digital experiences around their own operational processes but must now leverage technology to become more customer-centric. Some companies are using wearable technology on-board to offer a more personalized experience to travelers. Others are using virtual reality to allow potential customers to better experience the cruise environment. The abundance of technology today can be overwhelming, but the key for cruise lines is to pinpoint that which enhances the customer experience. Empower your customers to explore destinations and plan travel in their own way, and you’ll increase loyalty and repeat demand.
- We all know content is king, but cruise lines must now find ways to better utilize content
It’s been an adage for decades: “content is king,” and while that’s still true, because we’ve developed so much content for so long, we now have vast libraries that are difficult to filter through. Many cruise lines have compelling, rich content related to their ships, destinations, on-board activities, shore excursions and so much more. It’s critical that this content is both shareable and personalized. With the popularity of social media, sharing content with your network has become incredibly easy. It’s an essential part of the abovementioned narrative creation. Additionally, in travel, references from friends are a huge purchasing influencer. Therefore, cruise lines must leverage social media sharing as a reference tool to create new customer relationships from existing ones.
The only way to do this is to help travelers discover the right content at the right time. Today’s consumer will not sift through content for hours (or even minutes) if it’s not appealing.
Today’s world has also become less about storytelling and more about individualized discovery. Consumers don’t want to lean back and listen, they want to take an active role in an engaging planning process. They’ve come to expect personalized digital experiences. Netflix, Amazon, Facebook and others all make suggestions to their users based on individual preferences. Similarly, cruise lines should make use of technologies that engage travelers with more personalized recommendations. Take advantage of your huge content library by tailoring offerings to potential customers according to their preferences. Present content in a way that allows travelers to control their trip planning process. If content is king, finding ways to make that content more engaging is queen.
- Cruise lines want customers to spend more on their entire travel experience and activities will help them do so
From our conversation, it became clear that the successful cruise line of tomorrow will figure out the best ways to increase customer spend. In addition to the journeys themselves, on-board activities/dining and traditional shore excursions, how else can cruise operators create more sources of revenue?
By creating bookable private experiences (similar to those of Airbnb), cruise lines can not only help differentiate themselves from competitors but also open up new income streams. In fact, Royal Caribbean’s new subsidiary GoBe offers tours and activities led by locals in over 900 cities around the world. These are experiences that Royal Caribbean customers can explore and book before their trips, helping not only create differentiation and additional revenue for the company, but also a more personalized, authentic experience for customers. The key here is to come up with a wide variety of local tours and activities that appeal to a variety of different people and in the end, your customers will thank you for it.
These are just a few of my takeaways from the conversations I had last week with cruise industry experts. Overall, executives are bullish on the cruise industry and expect steady growth in the coming years. It’s essential, however, that brands leverage technology, experiential travel and personalization to differentiate themselves and outpace that growth.