Luxury lines bullish as demand soars for more curated destination experiences

'Luxury Conundrum' panelists, from left, Seabourn's Rick Meadows,  Ponant's Edie Rodriguez, moderator Deborah Frank of Luxury Magazine and Silversea's Roberto Martinoli 'Luxury Conundrum' panelists, from left, Seabourn's Rick Meadows, Ponant's Edie Rodriguez, moderator Deborah Frank of Luxury Magazine and Silversea's Roberto Martinoli (Photo: Arlene Satchell)

Cruising is winning over more converts and all segments of the cruise industry, from mass market and river to niche and luxury, are reaping benefit.

While pricing and shipboard offerings may differ widely between mainstream and luxury cruise lines, industry executives across the spectrum say a common thread is emerging among cruisers today.

From baby boomers and millennials to repeat guests and first-timers, travelers today are seeking more personalized experiences, cruise executives said Wednesday during a panel discussion on luxury travel trends at Seatrade Cruise Global.

'In the luxury category it is even more so about real, authentic experiences, and that’s what we all do very well is craft experiences that resonate with our guests,' Seabourn President Rick Meadows said.  

For some cruise operators, small or mid-size ships are the optimal platform for amplifying personalization.

'In order to deliver the right personalized experience to our guests we can’t have a gigantic vessel, the size of the vessel matters in that sense,' noted Roberto Martinoli, CEO, Silversea Cruises. 'Smaller means being able to give more personalized service and being able to meet guest expectations.'

Others agreed.

'Small is equivalent with luxury and not only from the [standpoint] of less people around, but you also want the opportunity to get into more unique ports,. as a smaller ship allows, said Edie Rodriguez, Americas brand chairman for French cruise line Ponant.

Travelers who want luxury are also looking for an authentic and smooth experience. They want lots of options and personalized service, Rodriguez noted.

Another emerging trend is a silo vacation, where people opt for a luxury experience that’s focused on a specific area of interest such as art or architecture in a unique destination setting, she said.

During Part One of the panel discussion dubbed 'The Luxury Conundrum,' Meadows, Martinoli and Rodriguez offered insights on travel trends their respective cruise lines were seeing and talked about strategies that could stimulate future growth.

'We all try to think about ways of delivering something unique whether it’s an overnight stay or a special destination in a given port,' Seabourn’s Meadows said.

Others are deploying ships to more far-flung, off-the-beaten path destinations to diversify offerings for luxury cruisers.

'We try to go more exotic destinations and visit places that would be very difficult to visit otherwise,' said Silversea’s Martinoli, offering an expedition vessel trip to Bangladesh as an example.

Looking ahead, luxury cruising appears well-positioned for growth based on a range of positive socio-economic indicators evident today, the executives concurred.

Luxury cruise operators are already enjoying high repeat guest rates of around 50%, and that trend is expected to continue.

'We have a very large pond to fish from,' Martinoli said. 'The demographics are in our favor. People are living longer and also … becoming wealthier so there are more people around the world that can spend more money and that [bodes] greatly in our favor.'

Martinoli noted there are also a large number of markets globally that have not been tapped yet, which presents another avenue to grow the luxury segment.

Luxury and up-market cruise companies also see their segments benefiting from the increased awareness of cruising being generated through the marketing efforts of their lower-priced mainstream competitors.

In the second half of Wednesday’s panel, officials from Cunard, Windstar Cruises and Starboard Cruise Services also stressed the importance of personalization and destination authenticity as themes around which to design new and creative offerings to attract future luxury and niche market cruisers.

Posted 08 March 2018

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Arlene Satchell

South Florida-based freelancer