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What cruise lines can do to woo millennials

July 5 2016

Kacha Azema

Cruises have a reputation for attracting “the newly wed and the nearly dead” – not exactly the millennial sweet spot. But with current audiences (ahem) aging out, this $39.6 billion1 industry has its eye on the 18- to 34-year-old set. Currently, millennials make up just 7 percent2 of the cruise industry’s 24 million passengers, but that stat masks a pretty strong interest in climbing aboard: A 2014 survey found that millennials were actually the age group most interested in cruising, with 53 percent wanting to take a cruise in the next two years.3 That’s a lot of opportunity: First, cruise marketers need to understand that they already offer millennial-friendly vacation experiences – then they need to make those experiences work to their advantage.

Appealing edibles

One of the biggest cruise perks that millennials connect with is food and drink. Millennials love seeking out exceptional meals and beverages (and sharing them on social media). Cruises, already no slouches when it comes to the kitchen, are elevating their cravables with creative, gourmet, and local options. Royal Caribbean’s flexible “Dynamic Dining” program has a dizzying array of choices, from pub fare to dishes by James Beard award-winning chef Michael Schwartz. Similarly, Norwegian Cruise Line is creating craft cocktails in its Bar Lab and partnering with Iron Chef Jose Garces on inventive Latin bites. All that’s missing for millennials is the hashtag.

Intriguing destinations

Millennials also value unique travel4 destinations packed with share-worthy experiences. By definition, cruises offer many vacations on a single journey – and they’re not all full of deckside shuffleboard and buffet bingo. Consider Europe: Many a wanderlusting millennial is dreaming of the continent,5 and the cultural activities already available on European cruises can go over big with this crowd. While millennials may not be your traditional museum-goers, they do consider them a good value6, and will turn out in droves for the right museum experience. Royal Caribbean offers a tour of Barcelona highlighting the work of Pablo Picasso: An Instagrammable tour of a picturesque Spanish city and its world-class art collection? No-brainer. Or take the iconic world cities of Viking River Cruises – millennials are already eyeing these cosmopolitan itineraries.7 So, stop thinking of river cruises as seniors’ sailing: They’re the fastest-growing cruise segment8 for a reason.

Extraordinary adventures

Millennials also love all-out adventure9, those wild, “I did it for the Instagram” moments. Cruises already offer unconventional adrenaline rushes. Un-Cruise Adventures, for example, specializes in hands-on adventures in exciting locales like the Galapagos, where travelers can kayak along volcanic channels or snorkel amongst damselfish. In Sweden, Norwegian Cruise Line passengers can take a rooftop tour across the island city of Riddarholmen. (Hello, new Facebook cover photo.) And for those days spent at sea, there are even thrills on-board: Royal Caribbean’s North Star offers 360-degree views 300 feet above sea level.

Now show it off

To lure the millennial market, cruise marketers need to reposition these awesome existing features that appeal to this demographic. That’s what we at Skidmore did with our launch video for the Norwegian Escape. By emphasizing the ship’s dining paradise, we were able to echo millennial enthusiasm for great food, great drinks, and great stories.


Royal Caribbean also nailed this approach in its “Come Seek” campaign, which played up the cruise line’s immersive, authentic experiences with taglines like, “You are not a tourist.” This campaign made the smart choice to utilize the popular social media site Periscope with “Come Seek Live,” a video series that featured live broadcasts from traveling influencers.

It’s a great idea, but has one significant downside: Periscope videos are only live for 24 hours. How about pushing user-generated content a little further? We did just that with a Norwegian concept that flashed UGC from Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook above the ship, creating a floating social media aggregator of real-life cruise moments.

Social Ship (1)
By filtering the cruise experience through the eyes of like-minded millennials, marketers can leverage UGC even more, breathing new life into that old “nearly dead” rep with the kind of unexpected, highly shareable experience this must-have market loves. Like the sound of that? Let’s talk about more ideas for repositioning cruises as a standout vacation on any millennial’s calendar.