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Brand, Campaigns & Content December 25, 2019

Chartering customer journeys to reach cruising under-35s


Cruises are surging with younger travellers; ABTA’s Travel Trends 2020 report found that 28% of 18-34 year olds took a cruise in 2019, up 6% on 2018. According to Mintel, 16-34s are the age group most interested in taking a sea cruise in the next five years. It goes against the classic stereotype of the cruise ship market, as if the grey pound can support the entire industry. But thinking of recent consumer trends driven by the younger spenders, the increasing popularity of cruising starts to make sense.

The all encompassing experience

It is common knowledge, almost a platitude, that the under-35 market drives the experience economy. It’s the reason why restaurants focus on decor as much as food, why Klarna runs experiential events like House of Klarna to convince consumers to use their payment service, the thinking behind Hendrick’s Gin running scented advertising on the London underground.

Cruising was already built for this era; it has always kept experience front and centre. Travellers could visit Mediterranean locations by plane, reach luxury stores by train, drive to beaches with the finest sand. But no travel options combine every benefit into one all encompassing experience, not like the cruise.

Integrating advantages over other cruises and other forms of travel

In advertising a cruise, we have to remember that other liners are not the only competition. With multiple ways to travel, each brand has to consider a benefit over the cruise competition and a benefit over other forms of travel. The growth of experience-based spending is ideal territory for the cruise industry to compete with the other options available. Airlines can offer a speedier journey from A to B and back, but getting to C and D isn’t part of the offering (and the less said about the food the better). Train travel can offer a similar number of destinations to cruising, but lacks the range of onboard amenities that provide so much extra comfort.

These are benefits for the category; the fine detail is in figuring out how the strengths of cruising can match the brand’s benefits over their in-category competitors, and aligning that with the stage in the customer journey. Early on, the key competition is planes, trains and automobiles. Later, the brands to watch out for are inside the cruising category.

The rise of the solo travel

Experiences are an overarching cause of the younger market’s interest in cruising; at a more granular level, a number of trends are creating interesting audience segmentations to consider.

First, the solo traveller. Whether this is an Emma Watson style ‘single-partnered’ situation, a journey of self discovery, or a ‘single and ready to mingle’ adventure, cruises are catering more and more to the lone traveller. Just You, a solo travel specialist, saw a 39% YoY increase in river cruise booking. There’s clear uptake for cruise companies offering a well packaged single ticket option.

Wellness tourism

Travel hasn’t escaped the rapid rise of wellness. This is a key audience persona to consider, with the wellness tourism market projected to reach $1 trillion by 2025. In terms of activities, travellers are well catered for by cruises. They can stretch to Nirvana at yoga classes, sweat it out in a steam room, hit the spa for a treatment or five. Brands are seeing the value in building partnerships in this area; recently Celebrity Cruises announced a partnership with Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop brand to provide classes on their Apex ship.

Working with Instagram’s #travel inspiration

There are almost 500,000,000 posts on Instagram using #travel. Destination inspiration is so readily available on social media that our lists of locations to tick off are expansive and expanding. The growth of micro-trips matches this shift, but cruise ships cater equally well to travellers looking to visit more cities each year. U by Uniworld is a fine example of a brand looking to meet this need, focusing on ‘immersive’ local experiences and extra “U-time,” letting users customise their onshore visit.


cult cruising

At a more niche level, there’s the growth of fandom cruises, around TV shows like Star Trek and The Walking Dead, music like Belle & Sebastian’s boat based indie festival and 70,000 Tonnes of Metal, and cult interests which are particularly well covered by U by Uniworld, who have run drag and tattoo themed cruises to connect with their under 40 audience. These offerings are intermittent, rarely running year after year, but tickets are quickly snapped up when events are announced. Waiting list only for the 2020 Star Trek cruise.

building customer journeys for each audience segment

Cruises are all things to all people. Each of these types of traveller could be aboard the same ship. The challenge for brands is to successfully segment their comms and content along the lines of these new and evolving audience personas. By planning and testing multiple customer journeys, cruise companies can target the traveller with the right message at the right time. As discussed in Dept’s whitepaper 7 Key Digital Drivers Of The Travel & Leisure Industry, it’s important to understand each part of the customer journey, through dreaming, researching, booking, experience and finally sharing. Smart operators will leverage this journey to create a completely customisable user path that mimics the experience they’re aiming to generate.

Google keyword planning

Sometimes, this can be a general segmentation across the cruise audience. A good example is cost: budget vs luxury. With these large scale splits in the audience, a lot of the work will be done in the PPC stage, based on the keywords in travellers’ Google searches. This initial browsing is the window shopping stage, but it’s the starting point for connecting with the customer. It also informs the business what customers are looking for; high traffic keywords that link different parts of the offering. For example, there could be a lot of searches for “cheap cruise Croatia,” showing the business a popular destination to feature in reaching the budget audience. This insight can inform display advertising, moving the focus to Croatian destinations in budget option advertising.

social promotion

Another ‘early in the journey’ example is Instagram. As a haven for travel audiences, consider the use of influencers and targeting followers of key accounts. If the key benefit of your cruise is reaching cultural European cities, run promotions with an influencer that tends to focus on destinations like Amsterdam and Bruges. If your cruise provides better food than anyone else on the market, start the awareness phase with display advertising for followers of popular foodie accounts. Integrate the look and feel of your food photography with the popular styles on Instagram; if cosy eating spaces are in, put those areas front and centre, for example.

using dynamic content to drive relevance

The ‘right message, right time’ mantra also applies to audiences for the burgeoning trends discussed earlier. Think of the solo traveller. There are dead giveaways that someone is looking to travel alone – their on site searches will be for single tickets. At this point, sites can serve dynamic content to test where their interests lie: are they after an independent journey of self discovery, or an entirely new social circle? Very quickly, the business will have an idea of what kind of content to send through email, and what topics to focus on in digital advertising.

Similarly, the multi-location traveller will have a long list of destinations they’re considering. The traveller and the cruise company are actually on the same page here, both are aiming to figure out where the traveller wants to go. In this case, a journey plotting app could be useful, allowing the customer to input what they’re after and find out which journeys are possible. Seeing what is possible is just the first step of the journey, but straight away brands can narrow down the customer journey.

Wellness could require the creation of new content or tweaking existing content around the relaxing activities and amenities available onboard to fit the wellness craze. With this segmentation, contextual messaging can be key to a successful consumer journey. Think of the prime ‘I wish I was in a spa’ moments: Monday lunchtime; Wednesday morning; the first week after payday. Using that extra urge to escape their surroundings can be a useful nudge towards checking out.

When thinking of an all encompassing offering like a cruise ship, these audience segmentations can be vital in creating the most relevant advertising, to move the consumer closer and closer to converting. The solution can be as simple as tracking on-site behaviour, watching for common paths and following up with further travel inspiration. It’s one of the few emails everyone wants to open whilst at work.

Women taking selfie at fairground
Women taking selfie at fairground



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