By Bill Becken, Senior Cruise Editor
Who is today’s cruise consumer and who is the customer of the future? How will cruise lines address and service them? What will new customers look for in future cruise products? Guy Young, CEO of Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, speaks to Travel-Intel.
Q. Who’s the cruise passenger of today?
A. Our river cruise passengers are mostly in the 50+ category. At least for the next 5-10 years or so, that’s a great category to be in, a great sweet spot for us. And a lot more of them will be coming to the table. They have both the discretionary income and leisure time for travel. This demographic favors much of the rest of the industry, of course, so companies will vigorously compete for the merits of their product.
Q. What’s basically in river cruising for the mainstream affluent, older demo?
A. Without a doubt river cruising is a great option whereby to visit insular countries. It’s easier on those older because you unpack once. It’s very comfortable. You have an English-speaking staff that caters to you throughout the whole cruise. It’s very easy to walk on and off the ship—say, to get into a car you’ve reserved or are visiting in. Our product in particular caters very well to that segment.
Q. How else have you tailored the product to the older demo?
A. Especially this year, we’ve set up a number of cruises with slightly gentler walking excursions. But, you know, my view is that the older demo is more active, physically fit and curious about travel than ever—even clamoring for new destinations for us to serve. So, for example, we’re now going on the Mekong River, which has been wildly successful, as have our cruises in Egypt and Russia. So, even as our main demographic gets older, it’s clear that they’re more active, fit and interested in travel—and we’re certainly going to be tweaking our product.
Q. Who’s the cruise passenger of tomorrow?
A. Obviously, eventually, to keep growing our business, we will address other demographics. We’ve already started to see a younger clientele—for us, at this point, GenXs, 30-45–coming aboard. And so we’re learning more about them and doing things to attract them. The demo actually aligns well with river cruising and so they have lots of potential as customers. Partly for their sake, we have bicycles aboard our ships. They enable clients to go off, take a ride into town or do a bicycle circuit along the river—the latter in particular they acclaim as quite beautiful.
Q. What else do Gen Xers want?
A. We’ve certainly found Gen X receptive to spa treatments. So we’re enhancing our spa services—a win for us, for spa naturally interests more affluent customers. Probably most important, we’ve created our so-called “GoActive” excursions. The term caters to the Gen X demo. Certainly we see genuinely active excursions as a way to really move 30-45 year olds into river cruising—our hunch being they’re really liable to enjoy it and to cruise repeatedly.
Q. Any other reasons Gen Xers, once they come aboard for the first time, find river cruising satisfying?
A. Well, a relative lack of structure is possible in river cruising. Excursions are included in the price of our programs, but usually they’re in the morning. So, in the afternoon, our clients have free time. River cruising offers that flexibility. One can choose to forsake an excursion, go into town, do his or her own thing. Of course, going back to the 50+ market, our itineraries and programs remain designed to include these excursions and to be relatively structured. But, if the younger market needs it, the flexibility’s there.
Q. And what about Gen Y? How do you define Gen Y—how are you addressing them over the long-term?
A. We both encounter and curry them. But that’s mostly on the multigenerational family level. On so many of our sailings, we have parents with children or grandparents with grandchildren. So there’s interest among that segment. For two or three years now, indeed, we’ve produced family-friendly sailings, dedicated departures for families to take, with special onboard activities for children. These have been popular, most of these departures have been sold out. So multigenerational travel, which usually includes Gen Y members, is proving to be a good niche for us.
Q. But it also seems that, the younger the guest, the harder it could be to please them on a longer cruise.
A. Well, yes, if children will be aboard, if they’re looking for a rock-climbing wall or a waterpark, they’re not going to find that on a river cruise ship. But for those adults intent on seeing Europe and wanting to immerse their children in it, that is, in the European culture–to really have a deep experience with their children in Europe — our river cruises are a great way to do so. So even active youth are on our radar via our multigenerational family programs and sailings.