Celebrity Cruises' president and chief executive spoke to Lucy Huxley ahead of his appearance at this year’s Columbus Day in Liverpool next Thursday
Q. What does the restructure plan mean for Celebrity Cruises and for UK agents selling the line?
A. Our trade partners will be able to enjoy the focus of a team fully committed to just the Celebrity Cruises brand. The sales, trade marketing and training teams will live and breathe only Celebrity, which should mean a noticeable enhancement in knowledge and the time they are able to commit to talking about Celebrity Cruises. It is a major step change for our business – this individual structure is already used in North America and has really delivered for ourselves and our trade partners.
Q. Do you plan to keep ships operating out of the UK and will you add more?
A. Our UK market commitment is very strong and we see good returns in terms of guest spend. The decision to develop a Celebrity dedicated team should also tell you that we have long‑term aggressive plans for the UK market. Celebrity Eclipse enjoys high repeat bookings and so we know we are doing something very right. We have every intention of continuing our UK ship deployment. I certainly wouldn’t ever rule out looking at adding more ships, if and when the circumstances are right.
Q. What effect has the cut in commission at the start of this year had on Celebrity’s relationship with agents?
A. The reaction of our trade partners has been receptive and understanding. We made the changes after much discussion, and we continue to work very closely with agent partners. This confirms to me that we made the right decision. We have focused much of our trade marketing and sales training in encouraging agents to sell our cruises based on value rather than price. Being frank, it is disappointing when we don’t always achieve the prices we want. However, we are happy that agents are beginning to see the business returns on offer when they sell at better rates.
Q. Do you feel UK agents have a good understanding of the Celebrity Cruises brand?
A. Awareness and understanding of Celebrity among UK agents has come a really long way in the last five years. Our biggest challenge is to encourage agents who think they know the cruise sector to think again. A Celebrity holiday is simply nothing like that of some of the traditional cruise lines that agents are used to selling. We are about to embark on marketing and training activity specific to the destinations on offer from Celebrity to help trade partners learn what is different about us.
Q. Many cruise lines piled into the Mediterranean three years or so ago but the capacity was unsustainable and many, including Royal Caribbean, cut back on ships there last year. Has Celebrity seen a drop-off?
A. We continue to feel that our presence in the Mediterranean and across different ports of call is important and we are not reducing capacity in 2014. More than half our fleet will be in Europe over the summer months next year. We are also introducing seven-night cruises in Europe – a first for Celebrity Cruises. While the economic climate in southern Europe remains challenging, we continue to grow our sales for European and Mediterranean cruises, particularly from the UK and North America.
Q. Are there still misconceptions about cruise among UK consumers and what can be done about that?
A. There absolutely are still misconceptions about cruising. We have significantly increased our investment in strong marketing and agent training over recent years, despite challenging economic times, to try to build awareness of what a true Celebrity Cruises experience actually entails.
Q. Celebrity recently launched a Cruise Lingo app to help passengers translate foreign phrases. Do you feel there is a lot of potential in using technology to get closer to your clients?
A. We absolutely do. Our guests are digitally savvy people who love to go on holiday with their mobile devices. We’ve also rolled out new destination apps. Hard-copy brochures are beautiful and will probably always have a role, but our new destination apps allow our guests to be much more immersed in the product offering.
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