29 January 2020 | MOF Team
Thousands of tourists flooded Bogle Seeds Farm in 2018 to see its sunflower field, inspired by snaps they’d seen on Instagram. The family eventually closed its doors to visitors.
“We’re farmers,” they told the New York Times. “We don’t want to be famous.”
Headlines such as 'Have Instagram Influencers Ruined Travel for Everyone?' sensationalise this trend, questioning whether the true spirit of adventure has been lost in pursuit of glossy portraits in front of Instagrammable scenes.
But there has always been a desire to pursue the authentic, uncharted territory, even before Instagram came along and ruined it for everyone... Lots of travellers have always sought to experience the true essence of a country, avoiding tourist traps to immerse themselves in the culture.
We’re now seeing a renewed interest for extreme adventure: once-in-a-lifetime experiences with an element of danger, out-of-the-ordinary pursuits that guarantee wonderful stories to tell.
Perhaps this explains the steady growth of the adventure cruise industry, a sector with exploration and discovery at its heart. Adventure-cruising expeditions directly tap into the desire for sensory extremes and pushing of personal limits. Participants of such voyages seem to truly possess the explorer gene.
With the aid of market research conducted by Human Theory, Matter Of Form assesses the 'adventure cruise' category. We ask what it means to be a true explorer in an age when any traveller can present themselves as one on social media, and how we can channel the voyager personality in order to drive sales and awareness of a travel brand.
The “adventure cruise” category is an exclusive one, accessible only to those able and prepared to front the cost. But the competition is certainly swelling with conversation around adventure travel often including safari, diving and trekking.
Several of the larger cruise companies have added exploratory cruises to their itineraries and, in some cases, even commissioned specially-built ships to cater to this segment. Ponant has announced an icebreaker cruise ship that will go into service in 2021. Celebrity has also expanded its itineraries in this area and now has a 24-cabin ship, Celebrity Xperience, dedicated to just itineraries to the Galapagos Islands.
But the true explorers, serious enough about expeditions to book a trip, crave the experiences you can’t get anywhere else. ‘Cruise’ and ‘Adventure’ aren’t necessarily terms that go hand in hand...
Human Theory mined thousands of conversational interactions on relevant travel forums, social channels, and review sites. Comparative analysis reveals a stark difference in what adventure travel and luxury cruises offer, as well as how different the two groups taking the holidays are:
Where adventure travellers talk about ‘making friends’, ‘bucket lists’ and ‘enjoying hostel stays’, luxury cruisers are focussed on the speciality restaurants and the customer service experienced onboard.
Adventure cruisers share similar qualities to adventure travellers – but with further peculiarities.
Both refer to experiencing something ‘amazing’ and ‘profound for humankind’. Yet, adventure cruisers are more likely to focus on dynamic activities than their on-land adventure counterparts. Notably, not all of these activities are reliant on the sea waters: ‘hot rocks’, ‘all abilities welcome’, ‘deep sea diving’, ‘carnival’.
Ultimately, adventure cruises aren’t about marrying the two holiday categories of “adventure travel” and “cruise travel” together. They’re for a different type of person, who is driven by difference, ready to explore in a whole new way.
Adventure cruisers are serious travellers – the antithesis of Gap Yearers in Sydney and Bali. They want to get to the nittiest, grittiest parts of the earth.
They see international discovery as a fundamental part of who they are, and the desire to cruise as a need to seek emotional and spiritual fulfillment, as opposed to merely just a leisurely holiday.
Hand-in-hand with their love of travel is the way in which they do it. Trekking, hiking and climbing form large parts of conversation and identity.
There is a duality to cruisers’ appreciation of well-being: they care about their own, both mentally and physically, but also the health of the planet they inhabit. They are ‘environmentalists’, ‘animal lovers’, tweeting about ‘petition changes’, ‘ocean conservancy’, ‘WWF’, ‘salt spas’ and ‘veganism’.
Underpinning the adventure cruiser is an educated, curious mind. The on-board naturalists are a huge selling point to most cruisers, with the phrase recurring time and again in conversation.
Adventure cruisers are passionate about what they are going to see, from wildlife to natural wonders.
A focus on these details, emphasising how up close and personal they will get, as well as featuring the size and intimacy of the ship, will differentiate adventure cruise brands from more tourist-associated competition.
The content of cruisers’ conversations left on reviews and forums indicated that families are a big segment of adventure cruisers.
These findings not only align with the emerging cultural trend of digital nomad families, but also with the distinctly affluent and middle class target demographic.
With 40% more children being home-schooled in 2017 than in 2014 (48k in total), the sociological theory of middle-class parenting as “concerted cultivation” rings true, with many turning to “edventure” – education through travel.
But the context of expedition cruises can frequently be associated with events that happen later in life, including milestone birthdays (60, 75) or wedding anniversaries. Cruisers speak of these events as original drivers for taking the trip. References in conversation to “all ability levels” and a “vast range of activities for all” similarly suggest not only an older, but perhaps less able group of cruisers.
Naturally, the capacity for brands to cater explorations to all abilities and most ages should be promoted, as cruisers don’t fall into one category demographic, especially with the rise of multi-generational groups.
However, the promise to see the usually unseen world we live in should be consistent. It is this primary motivation and the wonder associated that links all audiences.
In an era of travel as cultural capital, true explorers want genuine, authentic cultural immersions, not designed with an Instagram filter in mind.
Those in the adventure cruiser category talk enthusiastically about getting close to the action, often eschewing the need to take photos, prioritising the experience and committing it to memory.
Put simply, successful brands compete for the attention and budgets of their audience by offering the chance to travel as an explorer and not a tourist.
Regardless of age, these cruisers are truly adventurous, and serious about seeing parts of the world that usually go unseen. They are aware of the wonder and effect these sights will have, and therefore, messaging should center on the profound.
For more information about where travel is headed, follow this link to Matter Of Form’s recent whitepaper, The Future Of Adventure. Together with leading travel experts, MOF highlights the key trends in modern adventure.
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