Having decided that it could not promote its premium product with a mass-market strategy, Celebrity Cruises this year has launched a more targeted marketing campaign focused squarely on 10 key cities where it feels its “Modern Luxury” theme resonates most.
In those cities, Celebrity has created high-visibility events and forged partnerships to get passengers to take a second look at what makes the cruise line distinctive.
The strategy appears to be working. Travel agents say the results they’ve seen have been increased inquiries, higher prices and earlier bookings.
“We have seen a sizable increase in average per diem,” said Sandy Cleary, president of CruCon Cruise Outlet, an online seller based in Moultonborough, N.H. “Our pricing with Celebrity has gone up dramatically.”
That was one of the goals laid out by longtime Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. executive Michael Bayley after he was named president of Celebrity last summer.
Bayley inherited a quintet of innovative Solstice-class ships from his predecessor, Dan Hanrahan.
But Celebrity struggled to get premium pricing for the ships despite their premium design. To remedy that, Bayley said he has tried to shift the conversation to be less about value and more about worth.
“What we’re seeing from the strategy we’re executing is very, very promising,” Bayley said.
Celebrity has relied on geographic targeting of urban areas, where its more contemporary version of luxury cruises has fans. The cities include Washington, Atlanta, Toronto and seven others.
Within those cities, it focused on select demographic segments.
“We don’t go everywhere in New York,” Bayley said. “We do it in certain ZIP codes where our targeted customers live and work.”
A big effort has gone into capturing the gourmet traveler. Celebrity created a food truck, the first of its kind for a cruise line, to tool around Southern California offering samples of its onboard cuisine.
“You just don’t expect a cruise line to have a food truck,” said Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity’s senior vice president of sales.
The truck created enough buzz that Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel advertised its appearance to lure neighboring tenants to visit its Los Angeles office.
Frosch partner Susan Reder said ideas like the truck are giving the Celebrity name more visibility.
“For a brand advertisement, it was fabulous,” she said.
Celebrity has also created pop-up restaurants in San Francisco and New York. It delivered gourmet treats and complimentary massages on the Golden Gate Ferry in San Francisco and co-sponsored a restaurant showcase event at the Verizon Amphitheater in Atlanta.
In New York, Celebrity promoted the Lawn Club features on its Solstice-class ships by taking over a room in Grand Central Station, the city’s bustling eastside rail hub. For two days, commuters got to sit in the oversize Adirondack chairs and play croquet on the turf.
Bayley said the whole idea is to make the brand real to people, rather than abstract. “Now, they’re starting to accept the fact that there is this incredible product that is very distant from them,” he said. “When we bring it to them they can feel it.”
In addition to food and wine, Celebrity is also focused on entertainment that appeals to its target segment. It has added “Sin City,” a comedy/burlesque show, and “54 Below,” a cabaret act, to its lineup.
None of this has been without cost. Bayley said Celebrity is spending 30% more on marketing than it did a year ago. A big part of the spend, beyond events and sponsorships, is co-op advertising with partners to help them amplify the Celebrity message.
Agents said Celebrity has been giving them tools to sell the brand, such as the expired 123Go promotion and the Pick Your Perk offer that has succeeded it. In particular, they said, the free beverage package option is highly popular with many clients.
“They have changed the landscape of how promotions are being offered by the cruise lines single-handedly this year,” said Amber Blecker, a CruiseOne franchisee in Aurora, Colo.
Ed Rudner, president of Online Vacation Center of Plantation, Fla., said he appreciates the targeted marketing focus and thinks the strategy looks promising.
“The company was trying to reach too broad an audience,” Rudner said. “This is not a mass-market brand.
Bayley said he would like to see still more improvement in yields before judging the strategy a success.
“Every journey has a number of steps. We’ve taken several steps,” he said. “It’s a matter of moving the brand from value to worth, and I think we feel that’s happening.”