Creating community on cruises through content


This article was originally posted in The Insider


“The journey, not the arrival matters.”

T.S. Eliot


It wasn’t that long ago that many people thought that cruises were mostly for the “newlywed or nearly dead.”  But not anymore.  Close to 28 million people of all ages, incomes, and lifestyles were expected to board a cruise in 2018, two million more than a year ago.

According to the 2017 Cruise Industry Consumer Outlook report, ~85% of millennials said their interest in cruising increased over the last year, with 71% of men saying an ocean cruise was the type of vacation they were most interested in taking over the next three years.  And in terms of repeaters, 80% of past cruisers said they were interested in sailing again in the future.

Cruise lines have gotten a lot smarter about travelers in recent years and are using that intelligence to design and market themselves to specific audiences.   They understand that longevity on salt or fresh water depends on the two things that consumers now demand - a quality experience and personalization

As a result, today’s ocean and river cruise vacations come in all sizes, formats, and themes to serve the diverse needs of the “all about me” consumer.  They are no longer just floating hotels with standard-fare buffets, casinos, cabaret-like entertainment, and one-page news digests delivered to staterooms.

Whatever your passion, there are literally hundreds of cruises out there waiting to serve you up a smorgasbord of theme-focused experiences and entertainment (on board and off) that feed your appetites. If you’re into movies, music, TV shows, golf, celebrities, adventure, food, beer, wine, football, gaming, investing, fitness, art, astronomy, dance, fashion, mystery, or even Elvis, there’s a ship decked out and waiting for you, and hundreds like you, to jump on board.


Cruises + quality content can help create communities

It wasn’t that long ago that the most important part of choosing a cruise was the ports of call the ship sailed to.  And although people do select cruises based on destination bucket lists, they also want a dock-to-dock experience (from boarding through to final disembarkation) that’s tailored to their interests, passions, and preferences.  The amenities, services, entertainment, food and drink offerings, and social interactions should feel like they were designed for an audience of one - Me.

With onboard space a premium, rubbing elbows with others is the part of the journey that can make or break a traveler’s valuation of their trip.  So facilitating connections and creating a sense of community between likeminded passengers is important to foster a sense of belonging.  Cruises that do it right have passengers coming back again and again - something a friend of mine can attest to.

She and her husband have been booking the same R&B music cruise for years.  When I asked her why they keep going back for more of the same old song, she told me that they didn’t care where the ship sailed - it was about the music (the content), the connections (the other passengers and the bands) and the experience (non-stop socializing, dancing, and singing with people from all over the world who love music that is “too good for radio”).

She said that because everyone on board shared the same passion, a bond was forged early between them that quickly turned strangers into friends.  90% of the passengers and the 20+ bands who entertain and hang out with them are repeat cruisers - making every annual sailing, since the inaugural launch 25 years ago, one big happy music family reunion that would be sorely missed if it was gone.

This resonated with something I read from the chief content strategist at, Carolyn Spencer Brown - a former writer with The Washington Post who was named one of the 25 Most Influential Women in Travel by ForbesLife magazine.


"I think that what really sticks with me about cruises is that on ships you can, if you want, build communities, make friends, and meet new folks who stretch your own boundaries.”

Carolyn Spencer Brown
Cruise Critic


This got me thinking about themed cruises and the potential for other businesses to capitalize on captive audiences who share similar interests.  Given my years in the digital publishing space, the newspaper and magazine publishing community came to mind - in particular, The Globe and Mail.

The iconic Canadian newspaper has been offering luxury river cruises for the past few years to a select group of its valued (and valuable) subscribers.  The publisher not only delivers a 5-star sailing experience customized to meet the needs and interests of its readers, the CEO and members of the Globe’s editorial team get up close and personal with passengers, giving them insights into the newsroom they would otherwise never discover.  Columnists and journalists give talks, socialize, and attend excursions with passengers, creating connections and community among all the constituents.

The cruises have been so successful that the publisher is offering two cruises in 2019 rather than just one.


Seine River Cruise


The small, intimate sailing experience with tailored tours and virtually unfettered access to the Globe team is a win-win for the subscribers and the publisher.  Forget the millions the Globe makes from the cruises and just think about the real gold they unearth – the intelligence data they collect from their engaged passengers and the loyalty they cultivate.

There are other publishers jumping on board cruises as well, but they are still a minority.

The Times and The Sunday Times collaborate with Cunard on their Literary Festival on the Queen Mary 2 where book lovers can connect with favorite authors and journalists.

National Geographic offers a number of cruises around the world each year on one of their own ships to let passengers experience close encounters with unique species and visit National Geographic–sponsored research sites where they can converse with scientists in the field.

And of course, we’ve all heard about O Magazine-inspired cruises on Holland America - some of which come with Oprah herself.


A conversation with Oprah


But what about all the other publishers?

Last time I counted there were over 400 theme cruises listed on Theme Cruise Finder and those aren’t all of them, by any means.  Many of the cruise lines hosting these voyages already offer complementary access to thousands of digital newspapers and magazines on board, but the columnists, photographers, contributors, experts, and editors haven’t yet been integrated into the itineraries.  Missed opportunity?  If The Globe and Mail’s results are any indication, the answer would be a resounding, “Yes!”

There are so many ways for publishers to engage with readers and grow audience by partnering with ocean cruises, river cruises, and ferries that offer theme-based sailings and cross-promotional perks to passengers.  Here are just a few.

Imagine if...

    • Cunard’s Fashion Week Cruise welcomed editorial and photography teams from Vogue, Elle, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, or Vanity Fair on board to mix and mingle with fans and host workshops on what happens behind the scenes in newsrooms, at fashion events, and during photoshoots? I know more than a few people in our office who would jump on board for this kind of up close and personal experience with their favorite publications.
    • Uniworld’s Connoisseur Collection cruise partnered with food and wine magazines like Marie Claire’s Cuisine et Vins de France and invited celebrity chefs showcased in the magazine to host cooking classes using recipes from their latest edition?
    • Annual subscriptions to DNA, Gay Times, Attitude, and Diva digital magazines were gifted to all passengers on board Carnival Cruise Line’s annual LGBTQ cruises along with access to the personalities showcased inside the pages of the publications?

With all the themed sailings and special-interest publications available in multiple languages, the number of options for bringing cruises and publishers together for the benefit of their shared audiences and fans are only limited by one’s imagination.

And by providing open access to relevant digital newspapers and magazines to passengers before and, just as important, if not more, after they sail (via email, text messages, or part of their frequent-traveler program) cruise lines can continue to connect with passengers, nurture brand advocates, and grow loyalty long after the voyage is over.

It’s a win-win-win for passengers, ships, and publishers.

    • Cruise lines, river cruises, and ferries can offer unique value to their passengers in an eco-friendly way, saving money while growing brand equity and loyalty across all demographics.
    • Travelers and crew get frictionless access to quality, trusted content and an engaging experience at no charge to them.
    • Publishers are instantly served a massive captive audience they couldn’t access on their own, growing reach, audited circulation, and revenues.

Bringing consumers, publishers and travel brands together makes dollars and sense for everyone. How cool and rewarding is that?

Millions of travelers on 195+ ships and thousands of hotels, airplanes, lounges, and libraries already know the value of sponsored quality content.  But few have experienced the heightened engagement that comes when those behind the content connect with travelers at a more personal level.

We at PressReader want to change that and are working with publishers, cruise and ferry lines, and advertisers to enhance the travel experience by building community through content.  If you’d like to learn more, let’s talk!



Cruise and Ferry

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