Luxury cruise lines eye customers who want to travel in a ‘more purposeful way’

Sep 29, 2021

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Get ready for even more luxury cruises that are as much about getting access to unique and transformational experiences as they are about pampering.

So said several of the luxury cruise world’s leading executives Wednesday at Seatrade Cruise Global, the cruise industry’s annual meetup in Miami.

“The idea behind luxury is changing where people want to travel far and away, but they want to sculpt themselves into the environment, whether it’s in the classical world or whether it’s in the remotest parts of the world,” Navin Sawhney, the CEO for the Americas at small-ship specialist Ponant, said during a panel discussion on luxury cruising at the event.

“They want to do that in a way that is traveling with greater intent, and ultimately it’s so they can come back with a change, with a transformation without transforming where they visited,” Sawhney added.

Sawhney said one of the most important aspects of how luxury travel was changing was that “people want to travel in a more purposeful way … they want to have the deeper connection with the destinations that they visit.”

A specialist in cruises on small, upscale “expedition” ships that are designed to travel to remote and hard-to-reach parts of the world such as Antarctica and the Arctic, Ponant has been expanding fast in recent years to meet the growing demand for such trips.

The company over the past three years has added six new, 184-passenger expedition ships that are designed for upscale exploring. The vessels have strengthened hulls to bump through ice in polar regions and carry their own landing craft.

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As Sawhney noted, the market for cruises on such vessels and small ships in general has been growing significantly for more than a decade.

The current COVID-19 pandemic, he said, only has “helped people [move] deeper and further towards it.”

A top executive at Explora Journeys, a new luxury cruise brand in development by Europe-based MSC Cruises, echoed what Sawhney said, saying luxury travelers these days are “looking for transformative travel” and collecting experiences.

“That’s one reason we’re called Explora Journeys,” Chris Austin, chief sales officer for the US at Explora Journeys told more than 100 cruise line, port and destinations executives attending the luxury panel. He said the luxury customer increasingly is looking for a “journey” when they cruise that is “far more than just a mode of transportation. It’s a journey of exploration. It’s a journey of discovery. It’s a journey of their own personal mind, and [it’s] actually collecting those wonderful experiences, getting to know themselves even more, getting to know those around them.”

Luxury travelers want to see destinations “slower and deeper” than in the past, Austin added.

Explora Journeys’ first vessel is scheduled to debut in 2023.

Walter Littlejohn, the senior vice president and managing director of luxury leader Crystal Cruises‘ 5-year-old river cruise division, noted that the division has created a tour program that is specifically designed around small groups and more authentic experiences.

“Rather than focus on panoramic sightseeing tours, which are very common in the river cruise industry, we developed experiences that actually have our guests mix and mingle with locals and do things that locals do.”

Such experiences might include, for instance, a food tour through a destination that involves tasting local foods, wine and beer with a local chef.

“That’s what a luxury traveler is looking for,” Littlejohn said. “They want these memorable experiences. They want these moments that they can go back and share with their friends and family.”

All that said, the luxury traveler still wants the creature comforts for which luxury travel has become known.

“That’s what defines luxury … no matter what you’re doing, whether you’re doing something that is expedition-oriented or sustainably focused, or you’re doing a shopping expedition through Paris, or you’re doing a river cruise or you’re doing Disney World,” Littlejohn said. “A luxury traveler has to have their creature comforts all along the way, and it’s across a variety of elements. It’s not just food. It’s not just service. It’s not just accommodations. It’s everything.”

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Featured image courtesy of Ponant

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