mary Jane Manole, owner of The Luxx Travel in Las Vegas, had never been on a river cruise when she joined a group of agents in March who sailed the Danube on the Emerald Sun following the inaugural ASTA Global River Cruise Expo.
She documented her experience on social media alongside fellow millennial-serving travel advisor Molly Foster of Moke Travels in Las Vegas.
Manole said that her social media efforts generated a lot of curiosity and interest from her younger clients, many who previously expressed misgivings about river cruising, and that she’s already sold a number of river cruises to them.
“Having the opportunity to wake up in a different country every morning and getting that unique and special experience is an attraction for river cruising,” Manole said. “Young travelers like to be challenged, excited and have material for their social media. If it’s Instagramable, picture-perfect and can create stories with unique experiences, then the millennial travelers are interested.”
Her experience is becoming more common. A combination of traveler flexibility, innovative cruise amenities and more active, immersive itineraries are fueling younger generations to book both ocean and river cruise vacations.
Gen Xers and baby boomers are still the top source markets for most cruise lines, but millennial and Gen Z travelers are showing growing preference for cruises, having been exposed to the method of travel at a young age by their parents.
A 2021 study by Tripadvisor and Accenture found that high-income millennials were more interested in cruising than ever before, with 58% of those polled planning to take a cruise for their next leisure trip.
CLIA’s 2020 Global Market Report found that while people over 60 are still the largest group of cruisers, at 33%, 47 is the average cruiser age, and people between 20 and 39 years old make up 20% of cruise passengers. Furthermore, according to the report, millennials are the most enthusiastic cruisers, with 85% saying they would cruise again.
Millennials and Gen Zers are more likely to have had a taste of the cruise life earlier than previous generations, largely thanks to parents who took them on cruise ships as children, said Assia Georgieva, a stock analyst and principal at Highland Beach, Fla.- based Infinity Research.
“A lot have already traveled with their families, so they probably know a lot more than other generations,” she said. “In the past, 30- to 40-year-olds wouldn’t think it was something that appealed to them.”
Carnival Cruise Line president Christine Duffy, a boomer, was one of those parents who took her children on cruises as they were growing up. She said boomers took their families on “great vacations” and introduced their children to cruising early, a practice that makes younger travelers important to Carnival.
“We see a lot of younger people on the ships, especially on some of the shorter cruises where it’s a long weekend, a bachelorette party, a girls weekend, a reunion,” Duffy said. “There are also lots of younger people who are with their grandparents, who are footing the bill for the multigenerational family to all go away together.”
While multigenerational travel may be the focus for some brands, Virgin Voyages entered the cruise industry targeting the “young at heart.” Despite its clever advertising and edgy designs, CEO Tom McAlpin said, the product isn’t just for 20- and 30-year-olds, and the line instead aims at people age 35 to 55 who are looking for an adult experience.
“They want a premium mix experience done in a different way than all the formalities you traditionally have, with a lot more flexibility to do things the way they want to do,” McAlpin said.
Among the preferences that millennials and Gen Zers have while traveling is that they be connected. And cruise lines, which have long been challenged to provide reliable WiFi at sea, have taken note.
Royal Caribbean International says that its Voom WiFi offers “the fastest internet at sea.” Princess Cruises says its WiFi offers “supercharged” internet connectivity.
Royal Caribbean senior vice president of sales Vicki Freed said that when she entered the industry in the ’80s, the selling point for a cruise was that guests could disconnect from everything.
“Now you could never sell a cruise like that,” she said. “You have to be able to say you’ve got the fastest WiFi at sea. People expect fast WiFi, and they want to be able to Facetime. They want to be able to be online all the time.”
Karyn Todd, senior vice president of Cruise.com, agreed, saying, “People in that age demographic grew up with technology. It’s a second skin for them. Where they can use their phone to do anything onboard the ship, open a door, raise a window blind, order a meal, they love it. I love it, too. It’s convenient.”
The pandemic increased the number of people who want to work remotely, and a strong internet connection is required to serve them: A recent study from McKinsey & Co. found that workers age 18 to 34 were 59% more likely to leave their jobs than 55-to-64-year-olds if their employer didn’t offer remote-work possibilities.
Princess began marketing to these remote workers last year, with a campaign saying its high-speed WiFi offered “the ultimate remote workstation: an office at sea” while enjoying “the most picturesque videoconference backdrop on the horizon, thousands of miles from home.”