Just like the cruise lines, we want new faces

I was fishing in lower Tampa Bay during the weekend when Carnival’s “Paradise” and Royal Caribbean’s “Brilliance of the Seas” passed by, heading out on their weekly cruises to Mexico. It reminded me there are some interesting parallels between their kind of cruising and ours.

The major cruise lines continue to build more and bigger ships. To fill all those new staterooms, they’re trying to attract customers who have never sailed before. Why, one could even call it “Discover Cruising,” According to the Cruise Lines International Association, just 24 percent of the U.S. population has gone cruising.

Notably, those figures somewhat parallel marine industry figures. Specifically, 29 percent of U.S. households had at least one member go boating. Individually, 23.6 percent of all adults in the U.S. participated in boating. Good numbers, yes, but both industries are looking for a lot more.

With multimillion-dollar ad campaigns, new or remodeled ships and onboard innovations, cruise lines are pushing hard to attract some of the 200-million-plus people who have yet to board a ship. Similarly, our Discover Boating national campaign, albeit underfunded, is also aimed at getting a piece of the 200-million-plus that haven’t experienced the boating lifestyle yet.

A key target market for the cruise lines is age 25 and up with incomes of $40,000 or more — the millennials. According to the Cruise Lines International Association, millennials represent the greatest potential market with their $1.3 trillion in annual consumer spending. Not surprising, it’s a demographic the marine industry needs, perhaps even more when we consider the need to offset the losses of our aging boaters and still see an overall increase. Our industry’s Discover Boating campaign is, in part, targeting millennials, too, but like the cruise lines, we need to find a way to convey attractive value propositions and products to this price-conscious demo.

It’s interesting to note that the cruise lines face some hurdles that boating really doesn’t. For example, it’s reported that one of the main points of resistance to booking a cruise is concern that they and/or their kids could be bored; forced to stick to dining schedules; not get enough time in ports of call; and they can’t leave if they want to. Not so for boating. We can assure our prospects and customers there are no such problems. They set the schedule and activities. They decide when and where to come and go. We need to make the point that they’re in total control of their time on the boat and they can go “cruising” any time, every weekend, all summer long.

Finally, the number of people who opt to take a cruise continues a slow but steady growth, from 21.3 million last year to a projected 21.7 million this year. But the percentage of vacationers that take a cruise hasn’t grown. Similarly, boating is again seeing a slow but steady increase in new boaters. However, while our growth once paralleled the increase in population, it’s no longer true nor is it likely to be in the foreseeable future.

So we must get our growth by doing a better job of selling the advantages of boat ownership and the unique qualities the boating lifestyle has to offer families. After all, the opportunities to make great memories with a boat will last far longer than any seven-night cruise.


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