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What is So Special About Each Luxury Cruise Line? It’s Time for Them to Get Creative!

I have, for years, been asking the question of each luxury cruise line, “What makes your cruise line so special?” and over the past decade Silversea, Seabourn, Regent Seven Seas, and Crystal have responded with a variety of answers; each seeking to differentiate themselves.  (I would be remiss if I did not include Grill Class on Cunard, as well, though it is a fairly unique proposition.)

With the basics of open seating dining, included alcoholic beverages, prepaid or no gratuities, fine cuisine and excellent service and, for most, internet (limited or unlimited) now being ubiquitous and a number of the upper-premium (and even premium) lines also including these amenities either as an included aspect of their product or as an add-on, the differentiation has become not so obvious.

Many guests have their favorite cruise line and will never waiver from it.  But truth be told, with Silversea and Crystal coming under new ownership and management (with the attendant upgrades to their ships), the Big Four luxury lines are truly becoming more similar than they are different. And as more ships are being built and the number of luxury cruise passengers are not growing as quickly as the cruise line capacities have, all I have really seen are pricing schemes to attract sales.

And those pricing schemes are making the differences even less so. For example, Silversea is promoting included air and Seabourn highly discounted air ala Regent Seven Seas (though Seabourn does not offer a credit if you do not use its highly discounted air…a somewhat different approach). Similarly, while Crystal has a 2.5% Full Early Pay Discount, now Silversea has a 10% Pay In Full by Month’s End discount. And the list goes on.  It is, alas, a dizzying array of promotions that seem to change almost as soon as the prior promotion settles in.

Add to this premium lines seeking to attract new not only “move up”, but “move slightly down” guests.  For example, Windstar now owns three former Seabourn luxury ships and is investing $250 Million into them by stretching them, repowering them, adding new dining venues and refurbishing the ships from stem to stern while adding 50 new suites to this all-suite trio.  These 312 guest ships can be sailed without included alcoholic beverages. internet and prepaid gratuities…or you can pay $89 a day and get all of that plus unlimited laundry along with open-seat dining.  So with all-suite ships with fine cuisine, great service (albeit more informal), and all the amenities, what makes the “luxury” lines better?

Azamara Club Cruises is another example.  While it offers accommodations ranging from inside staterooms to suites, it provides an almost as inclusive experience (you do have to upgrade your included beverage package); especially for its suite guests.

And you can, with various promotions and packages, make an Oceania and even Celebrity, cruise such that all of the amenities are available (especially for suite guests) though you may encounter more people on their ships.

One thing I have learned is that if you sell on price rather than the exceptionality of your product, not only does the quality suffer, so does the bottom line.  Why? Because the old axiom of needing to put “heads in beds” works on the more contemporary lines because onboard revenue is many times a bigger earner than the cruise fare itself, with all-inclusive products there is not much room for onboard revenue. 

This results in a phenomenon that I have, unfortunately, seen time and time again:  Those who pay the least for their cruise tend to be the ones that consume the most alcohol, waste the most food and demand the most of the crew. This does not mean that everyone who gets a great deal on a luxury cruise is going to engage in that conduct, but there is a large contingent that does because, well, there is an “It is free” or “I paid for it” mentality.

Now, I am all for great pricing, but cruising is supposed to be about more than price: Amenities. Itineraries. Fine Dining. Sea Days. More.  And with so much capacity it is time for the luxury cruise lines to become creative.  Having a particular restaurant or included amenity is not going to sell a cruise, only enhance it.  So I ask again, “What makes your cruise line so special?

For me there is a value proposition that goes beyond marketing on price, to wit:  Things that make not only the cruise line, but the specific cruises special.  Some ideas:

  • Creative, but approachable, itineraries (such as the unfortunately now impossible Cuba) are key. But, alas, not just different ports, but actively explaining why the ports are so worthwhile and having true experts to easily enhance the guest experience without having to call it an  “expedition” or requiring zodiac rides (at additional cost).
  • Truly inspirational guest lecturers that is, ala Crystal, provided long in advance of the sailing.  I have seen enough ex-military and historical lecturers in my lifetime so how about expanding far more into the arts and sciences; something Cunard has excelled at.  
  • Headline entertainment is another woefully underutilized possibility in the luxury market.  From classical virtuosos to rock and roll legends unplugged, I have a number of clients that travel (and usually not on cruises) to see their favorites…and not only to Las Vegas.
  • Unique and Inspiring One of a Kind Events are another.  Azamara Club Cruises actually borrowed from Seabourn – who subsequently abandoned the concept – of one special evening event each cruise. Seabourn, Windstar and others do hold evening events in Ephesus (Kusadasi, Turkey) – which they are finally returning to – but otherwise what once was a great draw could easily be reinstituted.

I am sure there are more things, but one has to start somewhere. And with literally every cruise line building new ships with no plans to retire any of their existing fleets, something has to be done to improve market penetration, guest satisfaction, previous guest demand and new-to-cruise/new to travel prospects.

If you would like more information or would like to book a cruise, give me a call, drop me an email or send me a Facebook message!

US: (877) 2GO-LUXURY (877-246-5898)
UK: 020 8133 3450
AUS: (07) 3102 4685
Everywhere Else: +1 530 562 9232

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