Hello, luxury cruise lines. Where’s your social strategy?

The luxury cruise market was a hot topic at last week’s Cruise Shipping Miami/SeaTrade conference. As I listened to cruise executives discuss the massive opportunities in the luxury travel market – and the importance of word of mouth from past guests, I began to wonder… What would happen if they all implemented social strategies? With a sizeable market opportunity, and a clever marketing strategy that hits the core of what really motivates these people, I was surprised to hear the words “social media” mentioned once in the three-hour session.

The luxury lines are certainly hitting the core of why people travel, and they appear to know their customers very well. The luxury cruise experience would blow away even the most seasoned and high-maintenance traveler. After all, many of these people are millionaires. The stories they have to tell and once-in-a-lifetime experiences would convince a lot of people that their next vacation should be a cruise. I mean, who wouldn’t want to tell their friends about stargazing in the South Pacific with an astronomer and spotting a new galaxy? And, if the average age of the luxury traveler is decreasing – and the average age for users of social media is increasing, then this would seem like the perfect fit. Perhaps the cruise lines would need to spend less on TV campaigns if they were tapping into the networks of past guests.

First, let’s take a look at some of the statistics cited by the cruise line executives: (Seabourn, Crystal, Cunard, Silverseas, MSC among other European brands)
• There are more than 4 million households in the US with a household income of more than $1 million per year.
• The luxury travel market is valued at $270 Billion.
• Luxury travelers place a high value on experiences and will spend 35% of their income on travel in order to enrich their lives. “Being” can be more important than “having”.
• The choice of destination is one of the biggest drivers.
• According to Condé Nast Traveler, 80% of affluent travelers seek new experiences.
• Demographics are changing: Although there is plenty of opportunity in the boomer market (Every day for the next 19 years, 11,000 boomers will celebrate a 65th birthday), the average age is getting younger.
• Where wealth comes from is changing: What was mainly inherited wealth is now more often self-made millionaires and entrepreneurs.

What are the lines using to attract the luxury traveler?
Telling stories and going deep into the core of the experience is the main focus of the lines’ marketing strategies. Silverseas cruises COO, Ken Watson, showed “Rekindle the Dream”, a clip that apparently works. “Every time we show this video we sell a cruise ,” he said. “If you can tell a story about an experience, price is not so important.” I tried finding the clip but it seems to be impossible to find online.

Silversea Expeditions

According to Crystal, educated and cultured travelers don’t want to stop learning. The line is now featuring even more unique and specialized on board classes catering to sophisticated travelers, (sommelier schools, pilates classes, cooking classes with top chefs, astronomy lectures, etc.), Their marketing focus is to position the cruise experience as something that stimulates, enlightens and inspires. Nothing is really off limits if it is something that the luxury traveler wants.

The challenge for any cruise line is getting people to try a cruise for the first time. The luxury lines keep the focus on selling “destination experiences”, not necessarily the cruise ship itself. They also focus on pushing destinations that are easier to reach by ship, and exotic and unique places that are off the beaten path. Even better for brag value.

“It is ALL about recommendations to friends and family”
Everyone agrees that their best ambassadors are past guests. This can be true for any travel experience, or even more broadly, any time your customer experiences your product. If the lines really understand that social media is a platform that allows word of mouth to proliferate, and will spread the word like wildfire to exactly the target market they want to reach, then I’m still surprised why they are not jumping at the chance to connect with their communities of past customers.

Or perhaps, maybe I do know the answer to that. The marketing executives are out of touch with how to use social media platforms in the right way, and secondly their agencies would rather they spend money on traditional media or traditional PR strategies because it’s easier for them. Am I right or wrong? Who wants to discuss?

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