INTERNATIONAL. Strong demand for cruise holidays will see passenger numbers rise to 27.2 million next year, while 27 new ocean, river and speciality ships will debut to accommodate the numbers.

The forecasts were made by Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) in its latest forward-looking assessment* of the buoyant market.

The duty free and travel retail business is expanding in the cruise channel as more ships launch with extra retail space onboard

CLIA, the world’s largest cruise industry trade association, estimates this year will end with 25.8 million passengers, equating to an increase of +20.5% over the five years from 2011 to 2016. Cruise industry expenditures generated US$126 billion in total output worldwide last year.

CLIA President and CEO Cindy D’Aoust said: “It is without question that the cruise industry continues on a growth trajectory, gaining in consumer interest and creating a positive impact on the global economy.

“The 2018 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook is a way for us to keep a finger on the pulse of the global cruise industry and its impact on the global economy and identify new travel trends.”

Eight trends to watch

Based on its research and analysis, CLIA has come up with its top eight cruise travel trends for the coming year. Most are relevant to how duty free and travel retail operators and their brand suppliers sell and market onboard.

All Budgets Will Cruise – Almost all income brackets are now cruising, with 33% of cruisers surveyed (who took a cruise within the past three years) having a household income of less than US$80,000. The data shows cruising skews more to the affluent consumer than other types of vacations, but CLIA’s latest report indicates almost all levels of income enjoy cruise vacations.

Transformational Cruise Travel – Experiential travel is moving towards ‘transformational’ experiences. More passengers are looking for elements such as cultural immersion, so-called ‘voluntourism’ or extreme adventures, in order to return from a cruise with a shift in perspective and/or a sense of accomplishment. Cruise itineraries are changing to cater to the demand with, for example, tours through small villages, visits inside private homes, swimming with sharks in South Africa, riding a Harley Davidson in Alaska, or mingling with penguins in the Arctic.

Sustainability at Sea – The focus on sustainable tourism is increasing so that travellers can participate in sustainable practices both onboard and off. These include recycling and waste management and ‘voluntourism’ initiatives that have a positive environmental and social impact at destinations around the globe.

River Millennials – River and small ship cruising is gaining traction among Millennials as itineraries and destination experiences expand beyond walking and coach tours. The endless options for the perfect ‘Instagram moment’ is keeping the younger generation interested in river cruising, according to CLIA.

Skip-Gen Cruising – Multigenerational cruising is projected to increase in popularity in 2018 and beyond – but with a twist. More grandparents and grandchildren will travel together, but without the parents.

Travellers Warm to Chilly Destinations – Colder climate destinations including the Baltics, Canada, Alaska, and Antarctica are set for a boost. With ‘unique’ excursions, from penguin watching to ice fishing, these regions are drawing both new and repeat cruise travellers.

Healthy Doses – Health and wellness trips are on the rise and the cruise industry is responding with services and experiences for the mind and body. These range from seminars led by health experts, custom fitness programmes, stress management, and spa services. CLIA said there are now entire cruise itineraries dedicated to weight management and healthy living.

Smart Travel Technology – A rise in traveller-friendly technologies, thanks to wearable tech, offers cruise guests personalised and seamless experiences while onboard. This increases the opportunity for retail promotions, and extra spending.

*CLIA’s 2018 State of the Cruise Industry Outlook offers an in-depth look at the cruise industry’s overall global economic impact as well as the trends impacting cruise travel in 2018.