By Georges Panayotis
More than 1.2 billion tourists traveled worldwide in 2017 and on this constantly growing wave, just over 25 million people have taken advantage of the cruise product. This represents just a mere 3% of the total volume of tourists, but make no mistake, this figure is increasing slowly but surely. Indeed, this industry, unlike the hotel industry, has not stopped investing. While some operators sold off their walls and businesses, subcontracting and ceasing to invest in communications, cruise lines went full throttle in development and investment, gaining access by sea to the world's treasures.
A handful of operators share this rapidly growing market on the seas and river ways and vie with one another in inventiveness to stand out and attract new customers. New destinations, attractive pricing policies, promotions and communication through all channels, constant product evolution, strict maintenance of ship quality standards, partnerships with internationally known poster heads, broadening the range of products offered to customers. No more! the courtyard is full!
Meanwhile, some of those who had treasures in their hands tossed them into the sea and others directly into the pockets of their shareholders. They had made enormous efforts between the 1970s and the end of the 1990s and felt serene despite the threat of new distributors. It's a shame, because the great Goliath didn't know how to take an example from little David who works patiently to develop his market and always invests more to seduce the customer. Imagine sailing around the world on a 50-year-old ship? Yet that is precisely what some of us offer their customers.
Whether at sea or inland, the cruise product attracts an ever-wider range of clients from millennials to senior citizens, and operators are now able to offer entry-level products as well as luxury services, which can both find their place, and sometimes even on the same ship. It is not just cruises being marketed; so are destinations, products, MICE, experiences, and themes that attract ever more customers.
Cruise line operators are confronted with more drastic constraints than hoteliers. Maintaining ships that are dry-docked every 18 months, major technical constraints and investments for the construction of a ship, vulnerability of navigable routes depending on the weather, the complexity of managing a ship that can accommodate several thousand people on board, logistical constraints that would make the world's largest resort pale in fear, and the strong need for highly qualified personnel and associated salaries. We don't mind, the sector is thriving!
Hoteliers that have not yet made their transformation would benefit from following the example of a sector that is making progress and gaining in appeal to take full advantage of the tourist manna that is not about to dry up. Because nonetheless, nature abhors a vacuum. A growing share of the tourism clientele will turn to these attractive and differentiated products. At a time when technology makes it possible to 3D print a building in 6 days, we cannot do skip out on innovation… we must offer customers new products with a strong commitment by delivering a beautiful customer experience. If operators do not invest, there is a good chance that newcomers will step in.