It’s time the hotel industry stops ignoring the cruise business. Quite possibly the oddest phenomenon I have seen in my entire career – more so than hotels renting out rooms for a premium where celebs have died -- and it’s quite puzzling the entire industry never comes up in conversation.
It’s as if every hotel industry executive has made a secret pact to pretend the cruise industry does not exist. Much like the newspaper business still tries to pretend the internet doesn’t exist. How’s that working out for them?
Interestingly I’ve overheard more chatter about the potential growth of the Chilean bush people tourism market than discussions regarding the impact of cruising on the overall health of leisure focused hotels. Much like the Chilean bush people market, this conversation is completely nonexistent. That strikes me as incredibly foolish. The cruise industry is a continuously growing threat that must be addressed. Oh by the way, leisure traveler focused hoteliers could learn a thing or two as well from this business.
From what I have seen the cruise industry is doing a spectacular job at giving consumers what they want – no, it’s not Legionnaire’s disease- and is being rewarded with an increasingly larger slice of the tourism pie.
According to the American Association of Port Authorities and the Florida-Caribbean Cruise Association the number of cruise passengers increased by 1.3 million passengers between 2008 and 2010 to more than 14,300,000. That number is expected to grow to more than 20 million per year by 2015, according to Cruise Market Watch. More amazing is that less than half of Americans have taken cruises and those that have, express the desire to cruise again.
Hoteliers out there need to realize they’re not just competing against other hotels to win vacationer’s dollars; they’re also competing with a smart, growing industry that’s proving to have much higher growth potential than anyone has expected. After all cruise ships are frequently called ‘floating hotels’ so the lodging business must be aware of the similarities.
The lodging business needs to at least recognize why people like cruising and try to replicate that feeling at land based resorts.
This summer I packed up team Haussman for our first ever family cruise experience, which incidentally was the first cruise I took since choosing a career in the hotel industry. I took one back in the mid-nineties just as cruise ship development started to explode.
Overall I found cruising to be an eye opening experience that wowed me both as a professional (yes I use that word very loosely) and also as a leisure travel consumer.
I loved the overall value of the trip. I say value because this trip was not cheap but we got a lot for our money. I had grandma, grandpa, the twins and wifey with me; and we stayed in two cabins, each with a private veranda. And since it was a Disney Cruise we paid a premium for the experience. One cool side note, we left from New York City so we didn’t have to hassle with an airport.
Here’s what the hotel industry needs to take away:
- Not one passenger on the Disney Magic I spoke with felt like they were being nickel and dimed. All tips were included in overall price before we got on board and there was no sense you had to doll out dollars throughout the stay. And drinks were reasonably priced, relatively speaking.
- The abundance of food was amazing. No matter the time of day it was there and free. Even middle of the night room service was great when you craved a BLT and chocolate at 3am. Don’t ask. And the menus changed every night too so there was always something new and exciting to try.
- Though we ate dinner in a different restaurant nightly, we had the same wait staff. We built a rapport with our servers who got to know our specific eating habits on the first night and we never had to say something twice. My dad’s Diet Cokes always had lime and the kid who refuses to eat cheese never saw any on his pasta.
- We had the same room attendant every day. By having the same person take care of our room daily we got to know them. This helped break the barrier down between employee and guest so we could all just be people and create a relationship. That sort of interaction breeds loyalty and replaces a faceless corporation with a human touch.
- Lessons to be gleaned from other cruise lines:
- Carnival Cruises is testing a $50 a day all you can drink policy. Good move that makes people feel they can imbibe as much as they like but won’t necessarily do.
- Royal Caribbean is testing out a policy to keep lounge chair hogs from keeping those seats all day long even when they are doing other stuff throughout the day. If people vanish for more than 45 mins they will move stuff to allow others to utilize this much valued real estate.
So when you are thinking about how to capture the excitement of your hotel think to yourself about the big picture. There are much bigger threats than other resort hotels. In fact some may be floating by your property right now.