Last week, I was given the opportunity to speak at this year’s CLIA UK & Ireland ‘Columbus Day’, hosted by the excellent city of Liverpool. Home of The Beatles, the Liver Building, and now Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines’ Boudicca!
The conference was opened with a lively introduction from the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson, who extolled the merits of his famous city, and welcomed everyone in the room to sample all that Liverpool has to offer – which, I think it is fair to say, that we duly did! I was delighted to receive such a warm and a positive reaction to the ‘elephant in the room’ topic of ‘The changing face of the over-55 cruise customer’. I wanted us to challenge ourselves as an industry about our views of the cruise consumer: ‘How well do we know them?’ ‘How well do we market to them?’ ‘Do we actually push the right buttons?’ Given that 37% of cruisers are 65+ and 64% are 55+, it is clear that the majority of cruise lines are carrying older demographics that they may not be marketing to.
A staggering 17.5 million adults in the UK – that’s ten times the current size of the UK cruise market – are considering cruising. Are we too focused on ‘those who won’t’, rather than ‘those who might’? According to a MORI/Mintel study last year, 62% of British adults polled said that they would not consider a cruise, whilst 24% said that they would. Perhaps we remain all too focussed on reaching the 62%, and not enough on the 24%.
It may be a challenging reality, but the media and, to an extent, we in the travel industry, remain fixated with targeting the youth market. The media industry has always been fixated by the cult of ‘youth’ – but we need to be mindful that yesterday’s youth is rapidly becoming the new over-55s of today, and they bear no resemblance to the conventional images of ‘old age’.
Last year’s Passenger Shipping Association figures show that cruisers aged between 26 and 44 represented only 11% of the British market, yet we as an industry continue to focus our marketing to this group. The 75 to 84 bracket represents one million existing and potential cruisers, who tend to be wealthy, with time on their hands, and yet nobody is talking to them! In addition, there are a potential 2.6 million ‘SWOFTIES’ – single women over 50 who are into clubbing, tweeting and exotic holidays – that the industry could be singling out for targeted campaigns.
So, are we as an industry ‘ageist’? Fixated about trying to find younger customers, developing new ‘bells and whistles’, whilst ignoring – and even putting off – our biggest market by not talking to them in the way they wish to be talked to…or worst of all, not talking to them at all?
Be honest: are we promoting the image of cruise that we feel comfortable with, or the image of cruise that is most relevant to the majority of the market?