Among unpredictable demand and rising fuel costs, the big boat tour industry has charted a resilient course since 2020.
From AI optimizing routes to the post-pandemic rebound, this overview of big boat tour statistics paints a vivid picture of an evolving landscape.
General Big Boat Tour Industry Overview Trends
- Before 2020, river cruises were one of the fastest-growing segments of leisure travel. In 2019, the biggest names in the industry launched eight new ships.
- For some operators, the cost of doing business has nearly doubled due to rising fuel prices.
- “Active cruises” that involve some kind of active excursion — think hiking or biking — are growing in popularity.
- The leisure boat market is expected to reach $49 billion in 2026, up from about $41 billion in 2022.
- Meanwhile, the global yacht charter market was valued at $11.4 billion in 2022 and is projected to reach $20.2 billion by 2032.
- Boat tour businesses can have an annual revenue as high as $3.2 billion, although it varies greatly depending on your location. On average, bout tour businesses make anywhere from $200,000 to $700,000.
- Technological advancements are a key trend in the leisure boat market. AI is increasingly being used to optimize routes, lower emissions, and reduce human error.
- In 2022, the global cruise industry revenue worldwide brought in $19 billion in revenue.
- Alaska welcomed a record 1.65 million cruise passengers during the summer 2023 season.
What are the most common locations for big boat tours?
More than 87 million people participate in recreational boating in the U.S. every year. River cruises are increasingly popular, with highlights like the paddle-wheel cruise down the Mississippi River offering travelers an alternative way to visit cities like St. Louis, Memphis, and New Orleans.
Boat tours in coastal cities like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco are also very popular because they provide a different perspective of each city’s skyline and iconic monuments.
TourScanner took a look at the most popular boat tours on its website and found that New York City ranked No. 1 with 37,000 guest reviews. Boat tours along the Hudson River are a big hit among visitors and locals alike.
Miami was ranked second, with 34,000 reviews. The city has a strong local boating culture, which translates into a variety of boat tours for visitors, from sightseeing cruises on Biscayne Bay to glass-bottom boat rides.
New Orleans ranked third, while Chicago’s architecture boat tours ranked fourth. Oahu rounded out the top five destinations, where guests have a chance to snorkel among Waikiki’s vibrant coral reefs.
In fact, boat tours have become so popular in Hawaii that a bill to limit the number of commercial permits was introduced last year, aiming to curb over tourism in the state’s waters. The bill threatened to force dozens of boat tour operators out of business, but it was vetoed by the governor.
Speaking about cruises specifically, the Caribbean, the Bahamas, and Bermuda were the most visited ports in 2022, welcoming about 9 million tourists.
What do you need to do before starting a big boat tour business?
Whether you’re running a luxury yacht tour or a big boat whale watching excursion,, there are some essential steps to take before setting sail:
- Conduct market research: Understand the demand for boat tours in your chosen location, identify competitors, and pinpoint your unique selling points. Conduct surveys, analyze online reviews, and engage with potential customers to better understand their preferences.
- Get familiar with your location’s regulatory compliance: This can include licensing, safety regulations, and environmental standards. Research local maritime laws, consult with regulatory bodies, and hire legal counsel to guide you through compliance processes.
- Purchase/rent your boat fleet and create a maintenance schedule: Choose boats suitable for your tours — and factor in maintenance costs to ensure safety and reliability. The average annual cost for boat maintenance and repairs ranges from $1,000 to $5,000 or more.
- Get the right insurance coverage: Protect your business, employees, and customers from potential risks and liabilities. The average annual cost of boat insurance premiums ranges from $300 to $500.
- Make a business plan: Develop a solid business plan outlining your goals, target market, financial projections, and marketing strategies. Consider how you’re going to fund your startup costs and ongoing expenses.
- Safety protocols: Train your crew on emergency procedures, invest in safety equipment, and conduct regular drills to ensure they’re prepared for the job.
- Develop a marketing strategy: Decide which online and offline marketing channels you’ll use to build a brand presence that aligns with your target audience and drive new bookings
- Consider your pricing strategy: Pricing plays a key role in maximizing revenue for boat tour business. Decide which pricing strategy makes the most sense for your business, keeping in mind that you want to cater to different preferences and budgets. Overall, the average profit margin for a bout tour business in the U.S. typically ranges from 20% to 30%.
Despite the setbacks caused by the pandemic, the resilience of big boat operators shines through.
The leisure boat market’s projected growth, the embrace of technology, and the rebound of the global cruise industry indicate a promising future. As boat tours become increasingly popular, understanding the industry’s pulse will help you propel your boat business forward.