Trends in the short cruise market
Boat tours/cruises are still considered a “new” tourist product. Although Quebec’s industry is based on the star attraction of whale?watching, short cruises now represent one of the world’s most diversified product lines. The following report is an overview of the major trends characterizing this sector, an important vector for regional economic development.
The popularity of theme cruises
Companies offering short cruises continue to proliferate at a steady pace, offering a wide variety of products. Among the classic products are sunset cruises, dinner and fireworks, guided tours, boat dances and romantic suppers.
However, cruises are increasingly providing a forum for innovative activities involving role-playing, where passengers are invited to indulge other aspects of their personality and temporarily leave everyday life behind on the dock while they enjoy their time on the water. Theme cruises figure prominently in the array of nautical products offered in major North American and European cities. In addition to providing an original boating experience enabling participants to see the city from a different perspective, these tours offer access to a playful world where passengers become not just actors, but participants in the show. Among the more popular themes are casino cruises, treasure hunts and murder mysteries.
Other popular options are cruises featuring stories and history, whether local, national or international. Instead of passively observing an urban landscape, passengers participate and learn.
Professionals working in the short cruise market have recognized that their clientele has a need to escape the everyday, and seek adventure in the form of a relatively original tour. This has resulted in the use of ships that evoke the past or recreate an exotic locale. Steamboats, sailing ships and schooners are part of the heterogeneous fleet, rich in symbols, operated by this sector. There are even pirate ships, like Captain Memo’s Pirate Cruise in Florida.
Cruises give travellers a chance to familiarize themselves with local and ancestral cultures. For example, a growing number of cruise passengers are visiting Icy Strait Point, site of Hoonah, Alaska’s largest Tinglit village. This stop offers visitors contact with a culture in its natural environment.
Gourmet dining is also a key element in cruise products. As part of its river cruises in China, Viking River Cruises offers menus designed by internationally renowned chef Martin Yan.
Red Balloon Days, an Australian company specialized in original gifts, organizes the Massage & Beauty Cruise on Sydney Harbour. This three-hour cruise includes a full-body massage, a facial massage and other services devoted to relaxation and pampering.
Another Australian outfit, Captain Cook Cruises, offers dinner cruises on Sydney Harbour, featuring a recital of opera singers performing famous arias.
Something for everyone
Cruise companies are now trying to attract clienteles that they had previously tended to ignore. This has given rise to cruises targeting specific segments (gays/lesbians, families, singles, nudists, and others).
Businesspeople are one of the market segments targeted by short river cruises. Brunches, meetings, business meals, employee incentives and company parties are just some of the occasions when companies call in specialists to design activities and services especially for their needs. Organized according to various themes, these cruises rely on the cramped nature of boats to facilitate team-building.
A large number of companies offering short cruises also target the family market. No longer content to attract couples with the lure of romanticism, they would also like to position their products as true family activities: educational and fun for the kids, organized yet relaxing for the parents.
Building on the fun and festive aspect, companies are combining the nautical with the musical (live bands, DJs, karaoke, etc.), dancing (balls, salsa nights, etc.) or special events (Halloween, Oktoberfest, Mardi Gras, proms, etc.) as they aim for a younger, dynamic clientele.
Enhanced by experts
Boat tour/cruise companies try to differentiate their products by calling on renowned experts or hiring staff specialized in the natural and social environments visited. This creates products enhanced with a note of professionalism, like the following examples:
- Companies who belong to the Niche Cruise Marketing Alliance hire experts (historians, geographers, zoologists, anthropologists, etc.) for their cruises so they can share their knowledge with passengers.
- Quark Expeditions has invited author Jennifer Niven to participate in one of its cruises. The company organizes the Russia’s Far East & Wrangel Island cruise, which visits the places described by the writer in two of her novels. The cruise is an opportunity for passengers to learn about the history brought to life in her novels.
- Clipper Cruise Line, a US company, offers cruises which tour sites of major 20th-century battles involving American soldiers. Whether in the Mediterranean, on Europe’s Atlantic coast, in the Pacific or in Vietnam, passengers are invited to relive these battles with the guidance of historians and experts in these periods of history.
Development of port areas
Around the world, some long-abandoned port areas are starting to attract the attention of developers. Since the downtown areas of major North American and European cities naturally tend to have limited open space, former industrial areas, and ports in particular, offer a lot of potential for new developments and neighbourhoods. Sometimes very large in size, they can accommodate ambitious, multi-functional development plans. In addition, areas located near the water are naturally attractive, meaning that development plans can be designed to accommodate both residential areas and recreational activities.
This is the approach adopted by cities like Boston and Toronto, who are merely following the successful projects initiated by many cities, particularly those in Europe. When Barcelona redeveloped its seafront in preparation for the 1992 Olympic Games, it was a pioneer in this field. Deciding to fully embrace its position on the ocean, the city completely reinvented its urban landscape and created a space where culture, city life, and commercial and marine activities could live in harmony.
Some recent practices may lead to a new perception of what constitutes a cruise ship’s home port. In Moscow, for example, when the Volga River freezes in the winter and is closed to navigation, the Volga Flot company engages in a form of “seasonal recycling” and uses one of its ships trapped at the dock as a hotel.
Chair in Tourism, UQAM School of Business Administration. “Étude de l’offre récréotouristique nautique et portuaire dans les centres urbains,” March 2006.
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