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river cruise shipWith occupancy rates consistently exceeding 100% (you read that right—100%), the cruise industry is the fastest-growing category in the leisure travel market. According to The Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association (FCCA), the industry’s total economic impact in 2016 was $126 billion and it employed 1 million people. What’s more, the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) reports that 79% of travel agents say their cruise sales continue to rise.

So we decided to unpack some of the key factors contributing to this titanic cruise industry growth, explore which destinations are cashing in on the wave and how businesses in other travel sectors can leverage this knowledge to help boost their own bottom line.

What’s fueling the growth?
We’ve identified six key factors at play:

  1. Bigger, Bolder Ships
    In the 1980s, the average cruise ship was 29,000 gross tons. In the 2010s that number has more than quadrupled to 134,000! With larger ships come greater passenger capacity. Take, for instance, Royal Caribbean’s Symphony of the Seas. At a whopping 228,081 gross tons, it can accommodate 6,687 passengers (not to mention 2,200 crew members).
  2. More Destinations & Ports
    As itineraries reach further and wider, so does interest in cruising to try out these exciting new destinations.
  3. Expanded On-Board Amenities & Activities
    A true behemoth, the Symphony of the Seas is segmented into seven different “neighborhoods” all bustling with activity—including 20 dining venues, 14 bars and lounges, 24 pools and water attractions, ice shows, miniature golf, laser tag and ziplining, to name a few.
  4. Families, Multi-Gen & Skip-Gen Travel
    With so many of these activities appealing to the under 18 set, cruises have quickly gained popularity with families (so parents don’t have to hear the dreaded, “I’m bored!” from their kiddos). Of course, it’s always fun when the grandparents come along for a multi-generation trip. In an emerging trend, nanas and pop-pops are cutting out the middlemen (AKA parents) and taking their grandkids on cruises for skip-generation trips.
  5. River Cruising
    Bucking the big-ship movement are the more personalized (and highly Instagrammable) experiences passengers gain on river cruises and smaller ships, making them a big hit with millennials.
  6. Transformational Experiences
    Whether seeking improved health and wellness, cultural immersion, voluntourism opportunities or extreme adventures, today’s cruises deliver on the promise of becoming changed.

Where’s everyone going anyway?
As part of its Travel Agent Cruise Industry Outlook, CLIA asked professional travel agents about the health of 15 cruise destinations. The five below ranked highest with at least 40% of responding agents indicating growth in bookings:

  1. Alaska
    Color us unsurprised. 64% of agents reporting that Alaska is a growth market follows the trend of vacationers gravitating to destinations just a tad chillier than the traditional travel hotspots.
  2. Caribbean/Bermuda/Mexico
    Even an active hurricane season couldn’t shake travel agents’ affinity for this region with 86% still booking Caribbean cruises.
  3. Europe/Mediterranean
    With so many countries within easy reach of each other, cruisers can cram multiple vacations into one.
  4. Canada/New England
    Yet another cool climate itinerary blazing up the cruise charts.
  5. Hawaii
    Always a favorite (even post volcanic eruption), Hawaii benefits from its longstanding reputation for visitor satisfaction and ease of travel for Americans (no passport needed, no currency exchange, etc.).

So what does this all mean for me?
Here are our top-line insights and thought-starters for other travel industry sectors…

If you operate a hotel or resort:

  • Think about what amenities, activities and experiences you can add to your property that are popular with the cruise set.
  • If you’re in a port city—create attractive pre- and post-cruise packages (with transfers to and from the port) so passengers can easily make that early morning boarding time and extend their stay in a favorite destination.

If you’re a tour operator:

  • While some cruisers may want to linger on the ship to take advantage of shorter buffet lines, their pick of poolside lounge chairs, etc., the vast majority want to experience each port of call through shore excursions. Make sure you have a presence in heavily trafficked cruise ports.
  • Deliver what cruisers want by providing a wide range of tours to both must-see attractions and off-the-beaten-path experiences. Deliver what they need with flexible options for (admittedly less sexy) port transfers.

If you’re a destination marketing organization:

  • Make cruisers feel welcome to your destination with prominent brand messaging at the port.
  • Set up a visitors center to offer expert guidance for passengers who decide to “wing it” and forego the organized tours and excursions.
  • Add content to your website that’s relevant to cruisers doing research before they board their ship. For instance, you can create itineraries around what can be accomplished in two hours, four hours or six hours to accommodate whatever time window these passengers have in your destination.

Here at Dana, we’re excited about how cruise industry growth positively impacts the greater travel market. If you’d like to chat one-on-one about what it can mean for you, contact to Lynn Kaniper at 609-466-9187 ext. 117 or

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