Every cloud has a silver lining in the luxury cruise

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The pandemic has sapped everyone’s energy. The recent arrival of the Omicron variant has done the cruise industry a disservice, but it’s clear that Celebrity Cruises President and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo and her team have taken advantage of this time. unusual way to add quality and value to the luxury cruise line’s offering. .

“We’ve always been in the heat of the moment and we’re moving at 100 miles an hour, so when we had the chance to take a break, we used [former British Prime Minister] Winston Churchill’s comment ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’ in a positive way,” she says. “In my 37 years in this business, we’ve never had downtime like we did for Covid, so we decided to make the most of it.

“When Covid hit, we thought about the brand and decided we wanted a comeback. We wanted to use the break proactively and productively and shift our strategy slightly to help the brand move forward.

One result was the Always Include offer, part of Celebrity’s new luxury positioning. It’s about moving the brand into a space between premium and luxury. Research has shown that guests would be willing to pay tips, drinks, and Wi-Fi as part of the rate rather than as extras. Therefore, it was decided that Always Included pricing would be offered with every cruise, creating simplicity for consumers to better understand what they are booking, thus making Celebrity more attractive to people looking for a more luxurious.

By all accounts, it works. “The team thought 50% of passengers would want an Always Included fare – and that was an optimistic forecast – but 85% agree, even when we offer a cruise-only fare,” says Lutoff-Perlo. . “I think we struck a chord with the consumer. We have attracted high-end clients and moved into a new luxury space. Our new strategy and how we are positioning ourselves – with retirement, pricing, AlwaysInclusive – has really resonated with consumers and the industry. »

As people return to the vacation mentality, it seems they are focusing on the type of accommodation they buy, rather than Always Included, which is available with all categories. “What we find is that because people have been locked up for so long without doing anything, they have a different perspective on life and what they want to enjoy,” says Lutoff-Perlo. People really splurge on top inventory. We sell a higher percentage in The Retreat.

The arrival of the third ship in the Edge series, Celebrity Beyond, in April 2022 (several months after the original pre-pandemic fall 2021 launch date) will further strengthen the brand’s offering. When Lutoff-Perlo first came to the brand in late 2014, she began working with Harri Kulovaara, Royal Caribbean Group’s Marine Group Executive Vice President and Newbuilds, on both design and experiences. from the Edge series. At the time, she could see from the general arrangement plans that there was an opportunity to make Celebrity Beyond longer and larger than her sister ships, Celebrity Apex and Celebrity Edge, and the decision was duly made.

“It’s allowed us to do amazing things with some of the most popular spaces,” she says. The Sunset Bar, for example, is now multi-decked and superimposed at the rear of the ship and a two-tier Retreat sun deck has been created. The roof garden has been extended, as has the grill to create a full restaurant. There is a new specialty restaurant, Le Voyage de Daniel Boulud, a world-class bar and a larger and more spacious Grand Plaza with a bar located halfway.

“Everyone books The Retreat. It’s an amazing experience, the exclusivity is wonderful, but customers can still go to the mainstream areas,” says Lutoff-Perlo. “Bookings are generally going well, and are expected to get even better once Celebrity Beyond hits the UK in April.”

Looking ahead, Lutoff-Perlo is still determining whether the trend to spend more on high-end accommodations will continue, creating the need to expand Celebrity’s inventory. “Depending on how this all goes and if we maybe build another class of ship, we might increase the number of cabins in The Retreat, but no decision has been made yet.”

In terms of the here and now, Celebrity resumed operations in June 2021, commissioning eight ships in eight weeks, adding two more in December and one of the Galapagos expedition ships in January 2022. The The hope is that the entire fleet will be back in service by the end of the year, but the changing nature of the coronavirus and the latest Omicron variant is keeping everyone on their toes.

Although the United States Centers for Disease Control & Protection made the Conditional Sailing Order (CSO) voluntary on January 15, 2022, Lutoff-Perlo says, “We have every intention of following all CSO protocols voluntarily. Much of what we do goes beyond compliance. We don’t see that changing unless everything changes and he [coronavirus] is part of our lives. The thing we learned the most was to be flexible, agile and move forward. We can’t control what happens, but we can control how we handle it. »

Having sailed and visited several ships over the past few months, Lutoff-Perlo is only too aware of how people feel about socializing and travelling. “I too am nervous about going out, especially on a plane where you don’t know who you’re sitting next to,” she admits. “I was at Celebrity Summit over New Years and our team was concerned that I was canceling because of Omicron, so they were very grateful that I showed up.

“When I was on the boat, I wasn’t nervous at all; knowing that the guests and crew were fully vaccinated and strengthened, I could finally relax and have fun. It was a wonderful experience because I knew I was in the safest environment possible.

Celebrity’s record of not yet having to cancel cruises due to Covid-19 outbreaks since resuming operations is testament to the effectiveness of its health and safety measures. While there were a few instances of guests, these were “very, very low” and the same can be said for the crew.

A total of 98% of crew members said they want to return to the ships if they haven’t already. “Hand on heart, the best part of returning to duty was getting the crew back to work, which was very important to all of us,” says Lutoff-Perlo. “They have suffered enormously from not being able to earn a living. Some had to do different things for a while.

In terms of itineraries, some changes took place, for example Grand Cayman closed, so an alternative in the Caribbean had to be found. However, Lutoff-Perlo says, “In Europe, we are still visiting the ports we were visiting before the pandemic. In general, the destinations were eager to see us because the economies had suffered very badly in some places. »

With all three Edge ships and others sailing to Europe this summer, the hope is that for the first time in three years it will be a normal tourist season both there and in the Caribbean and Alaska.

At 12 months, Lutoff-Perlo shares Celebrity’s priorities: “I think the next 12 months will be about getting our fleet back into service, hoping our business normalizes and working hard to prepare for 2023-2024. There’s been a bit of a push back because of Omicron, so we’re building back the demand and the optimism for this industry and for the brand. Work with the marketing team to build consumer confidence in our industry. We took a good beating; I believe very unfairly in many cases. We are going to work hard to recover from all of this and I have no doubt that we will. »

This article first appeared in the Spring/Summer 2022 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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