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At the start of the year, MMGY Global boldly forecast 2024 as the “Year of Cruise” in its Global Travel Compass: 2024 Industry Outlook. Fast forward three months, and this viewpoint was cemented during two cruise industry events hosted by MMGY Global, in partnership with Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) and Travelzoo, held in Miami and London this April.

The Stats Tell the Story

According to CLIA, this year – for the first time – there are more than 300 ocean-going vessels from CLIA member fleets sailing the world. Eight new ships will be delivered in 2024 alone, with a further 26 due for launch by the end of 2028. Our specialist cruise PR teams in the UK and U.S. are currently working on launch campaigns for Oceania’s Allura and Aurora Expeditions’ Douglas Mawson, both of which will be inaugurated in 2025.

Cruise passenger numbers continue to increase year on year. Internationally, global ocean-going passenger data shows that 2023 ended with 31.7 million passengers, 107% of 2019’s 29.7 million. 2023 figures for the UK and Ireland show a 14.5% increase on 2019.

Cruisers love to cruise. CLIA research found that 82% will cruise again, although not necessarily every year. With the 16.5% increase in capacity that the new ships will deliver, the industry needs to seek out a new generation of cruisers.

Attracting the Next Wave of Cruisers

To identify that new generation of cruisers, MMGY Global partnered with CLIA and Travelzoo to conduct proprietary research into potential new-to-cruise travellers. The result, From Shore to Ship: Attracting the Next Wave of Cruisers, was unveiled at those two industry events.

This first-of-its-kind research study, carried out by MMGY Travel Intelligence, examined potential first-time cruisers and analysed the data to provide two sets of insights, tailored to the biggest cruise passenger markets in the world: the U.S. and the UK/Ireland. Some of the key findings for the UK were both surprising and promising. 

Younger, Further and More Responsibly

The UK report revealed that of those yet to cruise, younger travellers are showing a higher interest than their older counterparts. And while the 18–34 age group shows strong intent, there is also scope for cruise lines to appeal to the family market by developing excursions and onboard activities that span entertainment and education. Mainstream media are starting to add to their roster of expert cruise writers and find new voices to ensure that their cruise content appeals to these audiences. We also expect to see a greater emphasis on influencers, and continued growth in cruise content on YouTube and TikTok in particular, to inform and attract this group.

UK travellers yearn for a deeper connection with local communities and richer experiences when they travel. And while the onboard experience, from dining to activities to entertainment, is a huge deciding factor in how cruisers make their final booking decision, the research also showed that UK travellers value the quality of the itinerary – specifically the ability for in-depth exploration and engagement with multiple destinations. The growth in exploration destinations, a 53% increase year on year, further demonstrates this desire. We expect cruise companies to seek closer links with destinations to develop excursions and experiences that satisfy the needs of new cruisers, and to increase opportunities for regenerative tourism projects within destination communities.

The growing consciousness amongst potential cruisers surrounding the role of sustainability in their travel choices confirms a significant shift in consumer values towards responsible tourism. It will become more and more important for cruise lines to clearly communicate their actions, achievements and ambitions when it comes to sustainability. Leading the cruise industry in sustainability is Aurora Expeditions – the company achieved B-Corp certification earlier this year and is shortlisted for the Eco-travel Provider category in the Marie Claire UK Sustainability Awards. We expect others to follow this lead, and for widely recognised sustainability programmes to be embraced to help consumers be more aware of what conscious or responsible travel entails for cruises. 

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