Carry on cruising: The high seas – a huge opportunity for growth
When it comes to precious vacation time, OutThere travellers can be fickle. In my many years of trying to understand the travel behaviour of this valuable niche, I’ve come to find that like clothes, holiday options are fashionable and disposable. Travel companies are constantly having to reinvent themselves to suit the changing needs and wants of this demanding market – it really is a case of necessity being the mother of invention.
However, there is one type of holiday that has actually stood the test of time for our readers – cruises. In fact, the market is growing significantly, by 9% in the last year we’re told, with new players offering more options and existing ones diversifying their product range. You just have to spend a second on Google and you’ll see how much choice there really is and how hard these operators are working to deliver unique experiences and pouring money into marketing, in the hope of capturing that pink holiday dollar. Or shall I say dollars. Targeting OutThere cruisers is a seriously lucrative business – 20% more lucrative than courting straight customers in fact. And that’s just the average – in the luxury sector of the industry, the basic cost, which is that of the cruise ticket, can be over double the average.
People are, however, willing to spend because it isn’t about expense but value for money. Primarily, the ultimate value for an OutThere traveller to choose an LGBT+ friendly cruise company is the opportunity for us to be who we truly are and relax among like-minded passengers. But it goes beyond that. All-gay cruises push the notion of brotherhood, camaraderie and the opportunity to widen your social network. Some people choose their cruise based on social and economic status of fellow passengers. Others want to diversify their group of friends by choosing trips with passengers of varying nationalities. Others are happy to ‘suck it and see,’ in more ways than one. But with the advent of social networking and technology connecting travellers and allowing interaction with each other before and after, sharing the excitement, pictures, memories and the like, one of the biggest selling points now for cruises is who you’re likely to meet on board.
But it seems that there is no ‘one size fits all’ model when it comes to why one person chooses a trip over another. The diversity of the gay community itself means that we are taking just about every type of cruise, to every port, in every season. There is no specific ‘gay itinerary’. Plus, once the pleasure of North American gays, cruises are now appealing to all nationalities. Europeans are cruising more than ever before and Latin Americans are seeing their options to go on Spanish-speaking cruises grow. And as cruise itineraries diversify, starting ports change and with this, so do the nationality mix of the people on board – the so-called ‘globalisation’ of the passenger list. However, this poses its own challenges when it comes to integration and customer satisfaction. Americans prefer to eat early. Brazilians and the Hispanics eat late. Japanese passengers are food-fussy and struggle with language although they’ll try, much to the confusion of the ship’s Filipino staff. The French won’t speak English at all. The Brits want to be by the pool all day and all night. The Asians are solar-phobic and sit in their cabins or hog the casinos.
As the world becomes more tolerant to homosexuality, the choice of available ports and itineraries are also growing. It seems there is a bit of a bunfight to secure new ports in the race to be the first to offer a particular destination. However, sometimes it can lead to a lack of consideration as to truly how ‘gay-welcoming’ a particular port is. This year alone there have been incidents of port authorities not allowing gay cruise charters to dock. In a famous case, two men were arrested for getting in on, on the balcony of their berth whilst in the waters of a country where being gay is a felony. No doubt, some ports will always be less gay-friendly than others, but the cruise organisers need to be more aware and responsible of what they’re offering to customers. And in response, so must the customers. Of course, the atmosphere aboard an all-gay cruise will be a little bit more flamboyant, but this isn’t an excuse to be disrespectful of local customs.