Today’s cruise guests are better traveled and more sophisticated than ever. So, what are ship designers doing to keep them coming back for more? We asked SkiftX’s Editorial Strategist, Paul Brady, what he thinks. Paul will be moderating The Age of Design and Cruising on April 10th at Seatrade Cruise Global 2019.
Before we look to the future of design and cruising, can you share some key changes of the last five years? What experiences are today's travelers seeking more than ever?
One of the key changes I've noticed in the past few years is the massive shift toward expedition cruising and smaller vessels, both independent and associated with big brands. Obviously, these builds were in the works for some time, but there seems to be nearly limitless appetite for these sorts of ships — at least when it comes to the buzz they're receiving. It makes sense: Today's traveler is keen to try something new, go somewhere amazing, come home with incredible stories, and explore places that are (or feel) off the map. You can't necessarily do that on a big ship. The other, associated trend I would highlight is the design work being done to bridge the gap between "expedition" and "luxury" ships. I use scare quotes because both those terms are already super-fuzzy but I think anyone who's been on an older expedition ship knows what I mean — these are function over form type ships. Now, though, you've got major brands upgrading or scratch-building truly luxurious vessels to go to the ends of the Earth — Crystal, Ponant, Scenic, and Silversea all come to mind here. One thing I'm interested to ask my panelists is what design choices they have to make and the constraints they work with when creating these types of ships and interiors.
How can brands extend their reach beyond the shipboard experience?
I think that's the billion-dollar question! Clearly today's traveler — and I emphasize traveler not just cruiser — is on the hunt for experiences and the chance to skip lines and do stuff that other people don't get to do. In short, access. So if there are ways brands can make that happen, to ease the customer journey, I think travelers would really be appreciative of that. One other, totally different thing is, how are you interacting with your guests when they're not cruising? Most people aren't traveling 100 percent of the time, so how are you staying top of mind with them? What's your content strategy? What's your CRM plan and how are you keeping people inspired and engaged with your brand?
What are cruise companies doing in order to stay ahead of the design curve?
One way that I see cruise lines staying ahead of the curve is terrific partnerships, both in terms of the hard product and the soft product. Obviously name-brand chefs and restaurants have been a go-to for years — but I'm seeing more and more creative stuff going on there. Wellness is being integrated in new and interesting ways. Teaming up with hospitality designers is a big way to bring outside inspiration on board. And, more generally, we at Skift are seeing more and more bilateral brand partnerships — I'm talking in the travel sector and outside it — that help both sides engage new audiences and bring aboard new customers they wouldn't otherwise reach.
What cruising design innovation would you most like to see?
The innovation I'd most like to see is admittedly already out there in a few places — and kudos to everyone who's already implemented this stuff — but I'd really like to see it everywhere: Make boarding easier, faster, and better. In 2019, there's no reason I need to stand there while an agent types my info into a computer terminal. There's got to be a better way to get aboard more quickly and with less hassle. You already know me on the backend so now bring that customer profile into the real world!