Why luxury cruising has more drawing power now than ever

Luxury panelists, from left, Silversea's Roberto Martinoli, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's Douglas Prothero, Windstar Cruises' John Delaney Luxury panelists, from left, Silversea's Roberto Martinoli, The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection's Douglas Prothero, Windstar Cruises' John Delaney PHOTO: Theresa Norton

What’s fueling the demand for luxury cruises? According to executives on the luxury panel at Seatrade Cruise Global, baby boomers continue to seek upscale experiences at sea because they have disposable incomes and time to travel.

“We see many people sailing with us two or three times a year,” said John Delaney, president of Windstar Cruises. “Some younger demographics travel as well because they see travel as an entitlement, and they love to travel well.”

Wealth across the world is growing

Douglas Prothero, CEO of The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection, said his new line is drawing slightly younger travelers as “wealth across the world is growing, and we see it in places we weren’t seeing it before.”

Delaney also said more people realize the value of cruising while Prothero said luxury lines benefit from the growth of the cruise industry overall. “As the cruise industry grows, so do people graduate to luxury” as they move through life cycles from raising children through desiring a higher level of comfort as they become empty-nesters and retire.

Destinations

Roberto Martinoli, CEO of Silversea Cruises, said customers seek luxury lines especially when they want to explore a destination only available by ship. And once they experience a luxury cruise, they are more likely to return.

Delaney said Windstar partners with the James Beard Foundation, which entices foodies. “We attract potential cruisers via food and let them know the incredible dining experiences with award-winning chefs are available on board our ships,” he said.

Prothero said more than half of the Ritz-Carlton yacht guests are new to cruising. “We know they haven’t cruised before, and we attribute that to the brand,” he said. “We have a following and a trust of the brand and what the experience will be. The other side of that is design. If they haven’t been on a cruise, our ship looks a little different and sounds a little different.”

Delaney noted that in his segment, travel sellers are key. “We get many new to brand or new to cruise through travel agents who break through barriers,” he said.

Powerful brands

Martinoli was asked about the acquisition of Silversea by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. “I think there’s been a change for the better,” he said. “We’re able to access the organization of a very large corporation. On certain activities like finance and office support, all of a sudden a small family company has an incredible variety of services.” When asked about any improvements since the acquisition, he said: “We made suggestions and they were accepted. … We really can always say any change has been for the better.”

For a new entrant into the luxury cruise segment, Prothero said The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection benefits from its branding. “We already have a relationship with the customer,” he said. “For The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection customer, we know in many cases the customer knows the brand, so there’s an expectation.”

Being part of the Ritz-Carlton brand and the larger Marriott corporation gives “a very big microphone for the company in its infancy We don’t have any of the burdens of a start-up because of this great partnership. It’s like being able to find expertise in any area you can think of. When choosing tile or carpet, there’s somebody who’s specialty that is.”

The evolution of luxury

Meanwhile, in a separate session, Silversea chief marketing officer Barbara Muckermann spoke about the future of luxury consumers. She traced luxury back to the aristocracy when the royals weren’t worried about how to eat, sleep or protect themselves. But, she noted, luxury soon became about a way to cover insecurities or to feel more desirable. After all, a 50-cent supermarket bag does the same thing as $1,000 luxury leather bag.

Today, baby boomers control 68 percent of the income in the U.S., she said. But many have stopped buying luxury watches and diamonds in favor of experiences.

“The boomers after the war cared about having a car and having a house,” she said. “Millennials don’t care about that. They’re happy to use Uber and go on holiday with Airbnb. Today, luxury is an experience, not a thing.”

Posted 10 April 2019

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Theresa Norton

Theresa Norton