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Millennial Boaters

Millennial Boaters

Millennials are more than a catch-phrase. They are the future leaders and top consumers of our dynamic world. Although they are not yet the big market for boating, their potential to be THE market in the next few years is huge. SOPHIA SORENSEN, a full-fledged millennial, tells us a few opportunities to consider for now.

Sure, sailing a yacht into the sunset sounds like a dream. However, it also sounds like a dream only few can afford; and millennials (also known as Generation Y) are certainly not considered to be the typical “affordee”.

Generally, most millennials fall anywhere between those born in the early 1980’s, all the way to the mid to late 1990’s. Setting us apart from neighbouring generations, millennials are adventurous, with more than twice of us willing to “encounter danger in pursuit of excitement”. Alongside this, we are a ‘want this now’ generation. We are impatient, and don’t see time as something worth wasting. Our attention span has lowered significantly in comparison to previous generations, with the standard attention span only lasting eight seconds. We seek instant gratification, and expect answers, results and events to occur instantaneously.

In saying all of this, it is no surprise that boating for millennials is far different to any other generation. Do millennials have the time, the funds, and the need for boating?

The circumstances where millennials enjoy boating have changed. They tend to incorporate boating in their travels and other adventures, or to celebrate special occasions, but not always deliberately engaging in boating by itself.

Niamh Sullivan says that she enjoys boat trips while overseas and travelling, as she finds it is a great way to see a new destination. “I travelled to Thailand last year and made sure to do a few island hopping boat trips. They are always so fun and a great way to see a place! I also have been to a few birthday cruises here and there, which are always a great way to celebrate.”

John Henwood finds that he is out enjoying the boating atmosphere either during spring and summertime when his family and friends go water skiing, or when he is travelling overseas. “Last year we did ‘Go Boating’ in Copenhagen Harbour. It was so much fun! We millennials are very busy people and enjoy spending our money on other things. Although I can’t see myself buying a boat, they will always be great fun when travelling and for special occasions.”

There has been a shift from the frequency and occasion we enjoy on a boat. What once would be perhaps a weekly activity has become something less frequent yet with a higher value. I find that the boating culture has not died in this generation, but rather simply shifted to a different focus. The truth is, the rates of people enjoying marine life and boating has not dropped; but the purchase rate of boats has.

Niamh believes that the drop in boat purchases for millennials is due to the added technological demands, which work, university, and other hobbies require in comparison to previous generations. “To keep up with university studies, I need a high quality laptop and a compatible phone at the very least. Costs all add up very quickly. By the time we pay for these, we don’t have much to spend on hobbies. Instead, we utilise our devices in place of our hobbies.”

She isn’t wrong. Although millennials are among the most educated of generations, we are falling behind with astronomically large debts, and are not necessarily reaping the same financial rewards as other generations did. Due to the financial stresses experienced by millennials, it is unsurprising that we are not buying boats.

John admits that he cannot see himself buying a boat. “A lot of maintenance costs can be involved in boating. I have seen this first-hand with my family’s ski boat. However, if I were to change my mind and look at buying one, I don’t think it would be until I was around my mid 30s.”

Niamh and John share the same sentiment with most of the millennials. But there are young people out there who are committed to boating, and are focused on buying their own boat.

Sidney Cirello has grown up on the water, going out at least every two weeks. She would love to own at least her own tinny by the time she is 25. She believes most millennials are losing interest in purchasing their own boat due to common behaviours and habits. “We are a generation who want more travel and less responsibility. It’s far easier to hire a boat for a day in comparison to owning one, especially since the majority of people would only use it on special occasions.”

So if millennials are not yet buying, what are other opportunities for them to engage in boating? In other words, how can they be influenced into purchasing a boat in the future?

Unsurprisingly, if one was not raised in a boating environment, it is highly unlikely for a boat purchase to be on their cards. To adapt to the modern needs of the future boating generation, new criteria should be met.

Honing in on what is the most desirable experience for the young generation — stress relief, parties, or adventures, among others – is a good start. Unlike previous generations, we are more interested in knowing what value the boat can provide to our lives and what it can do for us, rather than the boat’s physical features.

For a start, something small, relatively inexpensive and thrill-seeking are most likely to be on the millennial checklist for their first-boat purchase. Tinnies are still among the more popular. It is important to focus on the lifestyle that the boat will provide – the relaxation, the adventure, and the ease of use. For hiring, a party/pontoon boat, or something to host events and special occasions are more attractive.

There are a few ways to jump the hurdle and reach millennials. Traditional selling platforms, such as boat shows for example, need to evolve into something more engaging for us and our friends. Setting up a “party” atmosphere will be a good marketing strategy for a start. Free boat rides and hands-on experiences, are examples of tactics for boat shows to get us literally boating.

Millennials also need things at their fingertips – and fast. This is where digital technology comes in. It is important to incorporate more digital features in the boat, so that it is tech-savvy and appealing to millennials. Features like Bluetooth, waterproof speakers, compatible smart watches, and even smart TVs are features millennials will look for. Easy, instant, “connected” and fun are key.

Social media is a useful tool to reaching the younger demographic for selling, leasing and hiring. Sidney believes that social media is an effective way to target millennials and spark their interest in the field of boating. “Using ads on websites and social media sites like Facebook, alongside more traditional media such as magazines and television ads, would be a good way to hook into our generation. A strong website and social media presence are probably most important. Almost every millennial I know will

hear about something through word-of-mouth, on social media or the internet, and the next step we take is to check out the seller’s website or the brand’s social media accounts.”

Since the average attention span of a millennial is the lowest among all generations, it is important to present the features that are most relevant them. The most important points should be shown clearly within the first eight seconds, as after this time, most millennials “switch off”. Having said that, even if we are a digital generation, it does not mean that we are off-limits to the traditional forms of media. Print, television, radio and cinema are less busy and have the power to catch our attention – if they do it right. A powerful campaign in a traditional form that captures our imagination in an instant (less than eight seconds, that is) has the potential to be more effective than a barrage of generic ads that look the same on social media.

John and Sidney both brought up how servicing fees, licenses, and all added extra costs tend to add up to a large expense, based on their experiences. This is why they would prefer to hire a boat on special occasions rather than owning one at this stage. Leasing packages, which incorporate and forecast the costs of repairs, maintenance and registration, could be an option. Developing attractive financing options and structures (such as a sharing economy set-up) that consider the millennials’ other spending priorities is something worth working on. If the costs and expenses, and the benefits are made clear and transparent, then boating will become an attractive investment for us.

We, the millennials, have 101 things to do, and are typically lacking the funds to do all of them. The purchase of a boat for leisure is not really at the forefront of most of our minds – not yet anyway. However, investing in us now will also reap benefits for our offspring. Selling the boating lifestyle to the Generations Y and Z is very effective in building the foundations of boating for Generation Alpha. Now that’s forward thinking!

The boating experiences are evolving for every generation. The appeal of boating is still definitely strong. Millennials are just looking for less commitment, lower costs, and more occasional boat experiences. Leasing and renting, and the sharing economy are looking very attractive for the future. Tapping into the millennial mindset means diverting and diversifying strategies to adapt to the future generations’ wants and needs.

It is said that the future of boating is looking grim, but I dare say that the landscape – or “seascape” – is simply changing.


Image: John Henwood with friends in Europe 



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