by Richard J. Vogel President and CEO, Pullmantur Group
The global cruise industry is going through a period of incredible growth. With a marked increase of 48% in passengers predicted between 2017 and 2027*, there has never been a brighter time to do business within cruise.
Of course, as demand increases, so must supply – making the market for cruise ship, repair and design incredibly vibrant. And, as the passenger profile continues to grow and develop, we’re now starting to see really exciting and innovative new ships debut.
Big ships are becoming more and more their own destination. But while we count on new ships (which break all records in terms of lower berths), we are also committed to smaller ships - which can offer guests a more premium experience in terms of both the destinations and the service on board.
As travellers now seek to holiday while maintaining the same lifestyle that they do ashore, we’re seeing that new ships now have the space and facilities to meet the needs of each guest.
Meeting this demand has been particularly important when we consider the growing trend for different generations of the same family travelling together. They are all looking for their place on board, so accommodating for different profiles is must aboard each vessel.
As ships continue to evolve, we find that technology is playing an ever-growing role in enhancing the customer experience while afloat. And, while there is so much going on, I find that those relating to two main aspects have had the most impact: connectivity and information availability.
When we go on holiday, we don't want to just disconnect from our routine; discover new places and take a break from our duties. We want to go further.
Instead of hiding away from the world, there is a desire to instead share our experience. We want to connect with our family and friends to share what we are doing; how much fun we are having; the fantastic dinner we have just enjoyed and the wonderful beach where we have just been for a splash.
To do this, it is "essential" to upload a photo to Facebook; a story to Instagram; a photo to our family's WhatsApp group and make a video call with our friends to show them where in the world we are. Social media is the catalyst for connecting the dots.
We could undoubtedly manage without all this. We could continue our holiday without any setbacks, but how would our passengers react if we told them that they would not be able to connect to the Internet on board for a week? I'm sure their experience wouldn't be the same.
Electronic boarding, keyless cabin doors, guest flow information systems are another important developments which leads to smoother and faster processes and therefore to a higher guest satisfaction.
Moreover, we must not forget the tools that help us feed our need for knowledge. Before visiting the travel agent, potential guests gather information on the benefits of the different options available, check forums, and ask other passengers. Our websites contain more and more information, not only text but also audiovisual material that gives guests a very good idea of what can be found on board.
The use of technology is not just limited to the on board experience though. It has become a key tool in the drive to becoming more environmentally-friendly industry.
In the last couple of years the cruise lines have invested a millions in new technology regarding efficiency, environmental friendly technology, sustainability and reducing exhaust. Prepared for cold ironing, Catalyst, scrubber and now LNG propulsion demonstrates how the industry is willing to protect the environment and by doing so also their own future. And these are just some examples how our industry is always looking forward and in some cases also acts a pioneer within the whole tourism industry.
We are also committed to implementing stricter procedures on generating and managing waste. Pullmantur Cruceros has joined Royal Caribbean’s initiative to eliminate the consumption of plastic straws on board. This will be the first of several steps in this direction.
However, as we continue on this journey to a greener industry, I think the main step being taken in this direction is related to awareness. It is no longer a question of just continuing to grow, it is a matter of doing so in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way.
Of course, there are further challenges on the horizon. Sustainability, for one. However, the main, yet most exciting challenge we face is precisely how to continue developing our industry.
It is true that we are breaking new records every year, increasing the number of cruise passengers. However, cruising is still young – the industry only represents only a small portion of the overall tourist pie – and has great potential.
Let's not kid ourselves - we need to be better at communicating. Cruise travel is still beset by stereotypes and ignorance, which is compounded by the fact that society is advancing very quickly with the help of new technologies.
If we want to continue along this successful path, we must rethink how we are communicating our strengths, our added value and our value for money to ever more well-informed clients, and why they should choose a cruise over a holiday at a beach resort. Our competitors are out there, and they represent all the other holiday options.
But that's not all. Although direct sales vary from country to country, travel agents are a major part of this process in all cases. If we want them to offer our destinations, it is essential that they have perfect knowledge of our offer: their training is extremely important.
And finally, we need to disseminate fact-based information in the destinations, showing how we contribute to the development of cities and our role as generators of wealth.
*Source: 2018-2019 Cruise Industry News Annual Report.