The cruising industry is booming. 2019 saw cruising vacations grow in popularity amongst UK holidaymakers as we head into the new decade.

Amongst the backdrop of a disproportionate amount of political uncertainty and Brexit, one-in-ten people took a cruise between July 2018 and July 2019, representing a 2% increase on the previous year.

Furthermore, the industry finally seems to be making some headway with one of its key challenges, enticing younger travellers. 2019 saw a notable increase in 18-34-year-olds taking a cruise holiday with 28% of this key demographic making a trip and one-in-five indicating that they would do so again.

As we head into the New Year, and indeed the new decade, this blog explores what trends we can expect to see in this growing market.

Combating overtourism

‘Overtourism' was a buzzword for much of 2019. Especially after the MSC Opera crashed into a wharf and tourist boat in Venice, injuring 5.

Popular cruise city destinations such as Amsterdam, Venice, Barcelona and Dubrovnik have suffered the most from this increasingly prevalent issue. However, last year, we finally started to see overtourism being tackled by the industry. In busy Barcelona, cruise lines have been experimenting with using Tarragona as a docking substitute. In Dubrovnik, the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) recently signed off on an agreement to implement better distribution of cruise ship arrivals to the city.

In 2020, we can expect to see cruise lines and tour operators assume greater responsibility in tackling the issue of overtourism.

Advances in technology are also expected to play their part in the fight against overtourism, particularly in distributing disembarking passengers and preventing any single location becoming overcrowded.

Amsterdam currently leads the way in terms of the application of such technology through Visit Amsterdam's app, 'Discover the City'. Consumers with the app installed will receive notifications as and when an attraction becomes relatively busy and helpfully offers alternatives to sights and attractions that are less crowded, dispersing tourism across the city as opposed to any singular spot.

Going green

Following on from the topic of overtourism and the issue of responsible travel within cruising comes the expectation of cruise lines making a more concentrated effort to reduce their carbon footprint in 2020.

2019 has indeed been a year in which the environmental crisis and how we tackle this existential issue has been brought to the forefront of our attention. it has been a year where 'Extinction Rebellion' and Greta Thunberg have become household names, with the latter even being named Time Magazine's person of the year.

The cruise industry has responded by investigating the prospective switch to cleaner fuel alternatives with lower sulphur content, such as Liquid Natural Gas (LNG).

The switch from marine diesel to LNG will see a 95-100% reduction in particulate matter, an 85% reduction in nitrogen oxides and a 20% reduction in carbon emissions.

By the start of 2020, Carnival's 5,200 passenger ship the Mardi Gras, the largest in the Carnival cruise line fleet, will be powered by LNG both in port and at sea, making it the first vessel in North America to use this source of fuel. By 2025, it's predicted that the industry will feature 25 ships powered by LNG.

Beyond the adoption of LNG as a fuel source, Norwegian cruise line Hurtigruten recently introduced the worlds first hybrid-powered ship, The Roald Amundsen, which incorporates two battery units alongside traditional engines that are estimated to create a 3,000-tonne reduction in CO2 emissions every year.

Beyond fuel, cruise lines are taking several other steps to reduce their carbon footprint. Many have eliminated the use of single-use plastics or have announced plastic bans alongside a host of other environmentally focused initiatives.

Expedition cruising

As younger generations driven by experiences over traditional holidays become increasingly enticed by the option of a cruise holiday, the industry has seen an upturn in the popularity of a more niche cruising journey, expedition cruising.

Traditionally, expedition cruising has been dominated by smaller vessels with comparatively basic amenities and customers paying for the destination as opposed to the journey as a whole.

In 2019, expedition cruising has been undergoing a radical transformation with the launch of new luxe vessels.

One such vessel that epitomises how expedition cruising has been changing is Celebrity's Flora's vessel purpose-built for exploration of the stunning Galapagos Islands.

The rise of this new luxury line of expedition vessels is set to extend into 2020 and beyond with 15 new expedition and adventure vessels set to launch in 2020 alone.

However, while the upturn in these adventure-style itinerary vacations is sure to be a welcome sight for the industry, as their popularity increases, additional thought must be given to ensure that we don't create overtourism issues in these far-flung, remote destinations.

The general advancement of technology and the role it plays within our lives has been unprecedented in recent years. This technological leap has had a dramatic effect on many industries with cruising being no exception and many companies beginning to implement technology and apps dedicated to enriching the customer experience.

There have been several notable examples of such tech implementation in recent years.

Companies including Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises have begun the implementation of facial recognition technology in 2019. The contentious technology has endured its fair share of controversies in 2019 with widespread privacy concerns related to the application of such technology dominating headlines. However, in the cruise industry, facial recognition has the potential for genuinely useful applications. The aftermentioned cruise lines have been implementing face recognition as a means of speeding up the embarkation process.

Our goal was to allow customers to get from car to bar in less than 10 minutes. People didn't feel like they were on vacation until day two - we wanted to give them their first day back.

Jay Schneider - SVP of digital at Royal Caribbean Cruises

Moving on from facial recognition, Princess Cruises have introduced the innovative OceanMedallion as part of their MedallionClass product. The token, which can be worn as a wristband or a necklace at the size of a 10p coin. The medallion helps facilitate a host of experience enriching features for guests, as detailed below.

Finally, during 2019, MSC Belissima, the newest member of the MSC cruise fleet introduced, a pioneering technology to the industry in the form of Zoey.

Zoey is very much the cruise industry's answer to Alexa or Google assistant. Zoey can be found in every cabin aboard the MSC Belissima and is capable of reserving restaurants and excursions, providing answers to questions on life onboard the ship, checking your bill and even speaks seven languages.

MSC Cruises digital assisstant zoey

2020 will surely see a host of new exciting applications of AI and technology in the industry and is expected to be one of the defining aspects of the consumer experience in 2020 and beyond.

Cruising has long resisted change when it comes to food and dining, clinging on to the old adage of banquet dining, seating plans and a formal dress code.

However, piece-by-piece, this long-serving tradition is being replaced with new dining themes aimed at appealing to younger audiences and new cruise lines entering the market.

Re-placing this traditional dining experience, cruises have been moving towards a blend of gastronomic sophistication via celebrity-chef restaurants and atypical grab-and-go venues.

A plethora of well-established cruise lines have hopped aboard the trend of celebrity-chef led dining. To name but a few examples, Crystal Cruises has been serving up experimental Japanese cuisine courtesy of Nobu Matsuhisa, Australian chef Curtis Stone has been making waves aboard Princess Cruises, and Royal Caribbean continues to reserve a seat for Jamie Oliver's beleaguered Jamie's Italian with at-sea eateries being spared from closure.

Finally, cruise lines have tentatively been dipping their foot in the water in regards to demand delivery services anytime and anywhere.

Carnival is now offering ship-wide delivery of pizza through their hub app, and similarly, Princess Cruises is providing vessel-wide food and drink delivery through its OceanMedallion technology. Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean and Virgin Voyages are set to hop on the delivery trend after trialling similar amenities.

Gastronomical delights to whet the appetite of cruising customers is a trend that looks set to continue and evolve during 2020 and beyond. Expect further niche and unique dining experiences for customers being led by renowned celebrity-chefs, customers with dietary requirements to be catered for with vegan menus and alcohol-free cocktails on the rise, as well as an expansion for ship-wide delivery and innovative new amenities such as Virgin Voyages' 'shake for champagne'.

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