Niche, specialty and themed cruising have been around for awhile, mostly with a focus on special interest groups. But today’s cruise companies are looking toward special interests – not necessarily to fill up their berths today, but to expand their potential cruise market by drawing in new cruisers. In fact, Rick Sasso, president/CEO, North America at MSC Cruises, credits theme cruising as,”…one of the key factors of our business growth as an industry. Having groups come aboard in a theme situation [is essential], because 80 percent of those people may have not taken a cruise. They came because of the theme, but once they tried cruising, then they become cruisers, as well. And that has been a mushroom for us over the decades.
“I remember one example. We did a Dizzy Gillespie theme cruise about 15 years ago. There were a couple of agents who promoted to the Dizzy Gillespie Fan Club. We had 800 people come on that cruise because it was a Dizzy Gillespie theme cruise and out of that 800, 700 said they had never thought of taking a cruise. And I think every theme has that kind of power—that it attracts people who would otherwise not have taken a cruise. It’s a real foundation for us to build future customers.”
As a result, he adds, “Over the last few years, we’ve added a lot of themes, including country and western music, Italian festival, big band—that last one is probably the one that’s really, really special in terms of driving business to the ship. A couple of times a year, there’ll be a sailing date with an 18-piece orchestra and a big band conductor and singer and it’s unbelievable how the crowds participate and the enjoyment they get.”
Should you promote these kinds of theme cruises? Absolutely, says Sasso, and he’ll even tell you how to do it. “Most cruise ships cater to groups and individuals—there’s a mix, it’s usually 70 to 30—30 percent are group passengers because they came on with some affinity. The theme creates another reason to have an affinity. So this year, if you’re living in Chicago and you see MSC is having a big band cruise, you go ahead and contact a local station that features that kind of music. You do a little promotion with that, block some group space and around the theme that we created on board, someone can take that and sub-market it to a select audience and create a group. That happens all the time with theme cruises, whether it’s country and western, big band, comedy, rock music, baseball, cooking—it really does pay for agents to capitalize on the theme by going to the local market and creating a group for that theme.”
MSC’s Caribbean cruises featuring the baseball theme include a 7-night Eastern Caribbean cruise calling at St. Thomas, USVI; Philipsburg, St. Maarten; and Nassau, Bahamas (Nov. 14, 2010; Jan. 9, 23 and Feb. 6, 2011); and the 7-night Western Caribbean Wonders calling at Key West, FL; Ocho Rios, Jamaica; George Town, Grand Cayman; and Cozumel, Mexico (Dec. 5, 2010).
For big band enthusiasts, the 16-piece Les DeMerle Big Band will be featured on the MSC Poesia. In addition to their performances, the band will present a Big Band Jazz Concert and DeMerle will conduct a lecture on the Big Band era. They will be featured on the 9-night Canada/New England sailing, departing Oct. 23, 2010 from Quebec City, Quebec and calling at Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada; Boston, MA; Newport, RI; New York, NY; and Fort Lauderdale, FL.
cruise west Cruise West, meanwhile, puts an emphasis on niche with a big focus on nature and now, with their new World Cruise program, culture. “We do photo cruises, we do food and wine cruises—photo cruises are very popular—but even beyond that, if you wanted to look more at niche cruising, it’s a really unique product,” explains Michael Thomas, v.p. of guest experience for Cruise West.
“In fact, let’s take a look at Alaska cruising, which is our core product, although we are a global player now with our World Cruise coming up. But you know, most cruise lines—and I’ve been in the industry a long time, mostly with the large cruise ships like Holland America Line, Crystal Cruises and Celebrity Cruises—most cruises take you to Alaska as a tourist. Cruise West takes you to Alaska as an explorer.