Plain sailing

PUBLISHED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 26 August, 2011, 12:00am

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Cruise ships used to be the preserve of the elderly. However, lower fares, more flexibility and enhanced facilities are attracting a new and younger generation of cruise enthusiasts. Nowhere is this truer than in Asia.

In addition to Balinese spas, fine dining restaurants and innovative floor shows, you will find 4D theatres, Formula One simulators, rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks, aqua parks and virtual entertainment.

'During the past decade, thanks to the introduction of the new generation class ships, cruising has become popular and 'cool' among the younger generation,' says Dario Rustico, vice-president, sales and marketing, Costa Crociere Pacific Asia Operations. 'This is mainly due to the fact that cruises have become more affordable, and many cruise companies have stepped up their game by enhancing their onboard offerings and catering to the tastes and needs of different groups of travellers.'

In order to meet the demands of this younger market, cruise companies are having to develop increasingly flexible products.

'The leisure travel market is growing towards ad hoc packages that allow travellers the flexibility and margin to combine cultural, gastronomical and natural experiences that meet their own personal needs,' says Stephen Van Wormer, managing director of MSC Cruises Asia. 'Today, more than ever, travellers can study their every move for their vacation from the comfort of their homes.' Most travellers in Hong Kong prefer to visit ports closer to home - in Taiwan, Vietnam, Hainan, or Shanghai. Those wanting to spend more time on board tend to prefer cruises to the Mediterranean or elsewhere in Europe.

'Customers in our market tend to look for new ships or destinations to experience,' says Gillian Lam, marketing executive, Celebrity Royal Caribbean International. 'However, price and length of itinerary will be the main factors.' Wealthier travellers are looking for something a bit more exclusive. Passengers in this sector tend to have more money to spend and are less strapped for time. According to Melvyn Yap, regional director, Asia, Silversea Cruises, the top segment of the market is looking for 'a boutique environment' and unusual destinations.

'Silversea caters to this desire with smaller ships giving passengers more space, a high staff-to-guest ratio and ships that can easily dock in 'off-the-beaten-track' destinations or normally inaccessible ports like London Tower Bridge, Ho Chi Minh City and the harbour in Monaco,' he says. 'Guests are constantly seeking new destinations and experiences and there is a growing demand for adventure cruising aboard dedicated vessels that can visit more off-the-beaten-track destinations, from the Antarctic and Amazon through to Zanzibar.'

The Asian market tends to be younger. 'Our Asian market is mostly couples, slightly younger in age [40 years plus] than our overall profile, which is from 58 to 63 years old,' Yap says.

'They tend to be successful business people and young professionals.'