Cruise lines use initiatives to break free from the pack

Cruise lines use initiatives to break free from the pack

Cruise lines are increasingly bundling their innovations
under a catchy title or phrase that draws attention to what they’re doing in
the hope of differentiating themselves from the pack.

The latest to do so is Celebrity Cruises, which announced
its “Celebrity Distinction” moniker in July.

Norwegian Cruise Line coined “Norwegian Edge” in January for
a package of culinary, shipboard and private island improvements.

And before that, lines created platforms such as Fun Ship
2.0 (Carnival Cruise Line), Royal Advantage (Royal Caribbean International) and
Signature of Excellence (Holland America Line).

What unites them, said one marketing expert, is the desire
to create a more premium image for their brand. 

“These are all elite positionings within the overall
category,” said Liz Dolinski, a New York marketing consultant and founder of
the social media marketing firm Luminosity.

Dolinski said that cruise lines often struggle to convince travelers
that their products are different from the rest “especially when you think
about which are the customers who are going to pay a higher price. So they’re
trying to create some specialness that rises up above their brand.”

Celebrity Distinction brings together a host of initiatives
that Celebrity has launched in the past year. It includes some traditional
elements, such as drydock upgrades to three older ships. It also applies to
more novel ones, such as the pairing of food and cinema on Celebrity’s outdoor
Rooftop Terrace on Millennium-class ships.

And it has some singular features, such as Celebrity’s
naming one of its ships for the first American-born female captain.

Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president for sales, trade
support and services, said what motivated the new platform was that Celebrity
was not gaining enough attention for its unique features when it announced them

“Platforms like these give [us] the ability to be able to
tell a wonderful story in a way that encompasses more than one thing at a
time,” Ritzenthaler said.

Speaking to a group of travel agents at an event in New York
Harbor last week, she said that although Celebrity was communicating its
distinctiveness, “people weren’t really grasping it, weren’t appreciating the
value we were adding or the money we were spending, because it came in one at a

Labeling programs can be particularly vital to upmarket
lines, where service programs and other tweaks can be subtle, Dolinski said.

Mass-market lines such as Carnival have used labels to
aggregate the hardware improvements on their ships. Fun Ship 2.0 is devoted to
physical improvements such as new restaurants, bars and entertainment venues.

Likewise, Royal Advantage began as a refurbishment program
for Royal Caribbean’s older ships.

But Celebrity Distinction includes things not so easily
communicated, such as an increased number of overnight stays in key ports or
more cruises that are tied to high-profile events.

Dolinski said that making features better known can be a key
to higher pricing.

“If all the brands feel the same and you want a high-end
customer who will pay slightly more, you have to give them something that you
can’t get anywhere else,” she said. “As soon as you add an element to your
product that is not present in another place but is truly unique it helps
create the extra price differentiation.”

Perhaps the prototype for marketing an upgrade package was
Holland America’s Signature of Excellence, launched in 2004. It grouped not
only hardware improvements, such as new bars and stores, but soft goods,
including special linens, and onboard enrichment programs, such as free classes
on Microsoft’s Windows software.

Last year, Holland America announced a $300 million
fleetwide improvement program focused initially on suites, but bucking the
trend, it did not give the new package a name.

Arnie Weissmann contributed to this report.

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