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How can cruise brands make waves in the millennial and Gen-Z market?


Cruises, traditionally the domain of the older traveller, are proving to be popular among Gen-Z and millennials.


Hitwise’s UK Travel Report found that interest in cruises among 18-24 year olds had increased by a massive 49%. However, marketing tactics used by cruise brands are still often aimed towards older demographics or families – Royal Caribbean’s ‘family first’ campaign is a case in point.

With these tactics in place, it is perhaps no surprise that Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA)’s annual review found that the average age of a passenger is still 55.

Whilst brands don’t have to entirely dial down traditional tactics, like the clinking glasses in front of a sunset, they do need to show Gen-Z and millennials that there’s more fun to be had than slowly dancing in Jane McDonald ballroom gowns.

So, how can cruise brands start attracting more Gen-Z and millennial customers?

Go back to brand and advertising basics; your creative 
To attract younger holidaymakers, operators need to focus on brand positioning, personality and its creative platforms and executions. You can have all the buzzword-fuelled gadgetry onboard, but if your TV, print, radio and the rest of it still plays out older people in cliche cruise scenes, nobody new will turn up.

As a result, cruise brands need to show how Gen-Z and millennials can use the facilities to create unforgettable memories. They need to tailor their marketing strategies to focus on video and images, finding ways to get consumers to share their experiences on social media and travel review sites. How do you make your cruises Instagram-worthy, or something that will look good in an online video?

Don’t act on marketing hype alone
A number of cruise brands looking to attract younger audiences are dialling-up investment in Augmented Reality code activated in-bar content, AI-powered bar-bots and personalised digital screen content in rooms. And yet, they seem surprised this action isn’t swiftly followed by a flood of bookings from under 30s.

So perhaps they should stick to their identity and values, rather than needlessly jumping on the latest marketing bandwagon.

It’s not to say ‘keeping up’ is wrong, because new tech can help attract younger audiences, but cruise brands need to make sure they are not alienating the existing cruise market or distorting what they stand for.

Go beyond the usual channel mix 
Cruise brands looking to tap into the Gen-Z and millennial market need to understand that this audience isn’t watching the same satellite TV or reading similar content as the older crowd.

Instead, they must re-focus their marketing strategies to prioritise Facebook, Instagram, Twitter – and particularly YouTube. An Ad Week study found that when it comes to shopping recommendations, YouTube is Gen-Z’s platform of choice at 24%, followed by Instagram at 17% and Facebook at 16%.

Cruise brands would do well to take this on board and alter their approach to boost visibility among Gen-Z and millennials. A leading example of this style of marketing is Royal Caribbean’s This is how to holiday campaign. The push was a shift from the conventional TV advertising approach, opting instead to use a combination of digital, radio and video-on-demand, and make new-to-cruise customers the primary target audience.

Don’t push your existing audience away 
Whilst it’s imperative that cruise providers reach younger audiences, it’s just as critical they continue attracting and retaining their existing customers. Go too far down the modern, youthful, energetic route in your marketing and you risk turning repeat customers off altogether.

A balance is needed, or better still, different sets of campaign visuals for each audience.

For example, Princess Cruises’ Doing this campaign. Spanning across multiple channels, the campaign demonstrated how consumers aged from Gen-Z to baby boomers can benefit from the onboard facilities. Whilst the campaign was a step away from the traditional style of marketing seen in the cruise sector, it will become the new norm as brands begin to feature millennials and Gen-Z more in their marketing.

Successfully building awareness, changing perceptions and driving consideration for cruises amongst younger travellers is going to require showing them the cruise experience in a contemporary, modern and exciting way. While most operators are still overly focused on marketing to the traditional cruise passenger, some brands have started to adapt and use their campaigns to appeal to Gen-Z and millennials.

The cruise sector needs to accept that change is inevitable and capitalise on Gen-Z and millennials’ undoubted interest in cruising by exploring new marketing channels and striking a balance between appealing to the new and the old consumer. It’s not impossible, but it will require brands to be bolder in their choice of marketing approaches. Now is the time to make waves.

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