As Celebrity Cruises revealed plans for a new suite strategy designed with their most affluent guests in mind, Rupert Murray spoke to the line’s president Michael Bayley and UK & Ireland MD Jo Rzymowska, to find out what the future holds for the luxury line

From April next year guests who stay in suites on board Celebrity Cruises ships can expect a seriously VIP experience.

Michael Bayley has led a drive to get richer customers on his ships by targeting the 10 wealthiest cities in America and as a result wants to up the ante on what the big spenders get when they step on board.

He explained: “We realised we needed to do more to understand our customers so used segmentation, targeting and heat maps to talk to the affluent customers and high value travel partners in these urban areas. With ramped up marketing, sales support and trade support we’ve seen this uplift in sales and the affluence of our customers.”

Bayley believes these suite-staying guests have very high expectations, and to meet those the line has introduced private dining with dedicated chefs, a VIP private lounge offering entertainment, guest services, concierge, and included premium drinks, food and internet in the price.

Bayley also shared his view that the industry has drifted into commodity-based thinking that devalues brands.

“If we talk about price point in a market as complicated as this, nobody is winning. The customers especially lose out as they may get a low price but not the right product.”

“The entire industry needs to evolve and this thing where everything gets boiled down to postcard-sized promotions with a price point does nobody any favours.

“We’ve all got to get cleverer about servicing customers in a more insightful, targeted way.The revenue potential is so much greater and the experience delivered, if matched correctly, builds loyalty,” he added.

The line has taken various steps lately to enhance the experience further.

Ben Fogle, who Bayley said has been converted to the world of cruise holidays by his experiences with Celebrity, has been working with them to develop itineraries and shore excursions. Six Great Adventures are tours Fogle helped shape and Bayley is convinced having someone like him as an ambassador will persuade affluent non-cruisers to try Celebrity out.

He also expects wine expert Oz Clarke, another convert to cruise who has been working with the line, to have a similar impact.

“It was important that they weren’t cruisers to start with and also that they are both known for enjoying quality travel and wine respectively. We’ve already seen a good impact and both are very engaging at trade and consumer events.”

From this April the line will switch its spas to Canyon Ranch in an attempt to stand out from the rest of the industry. Bayley believes the brand is a different level to competitors and will offer a “lifestyle experience.”

The footprint of the Celebrity Cruises business in the UK is unrecognisable from before the decision was made for the brand to operate autonomous of the other Royal Caribbean brands.

Since the change, dedicated staffing levels have jumped more than 500% from 15 to 100.

The line has its own call centre, a marketing team, a commercial team, a field sales team of close to 20 and a dedicated training team. Investment in marketing has also jumped too.

Rzymowska said. “Those who know us, love us. But not enough know us,”

She added: “Half of the roles are in the call centre but this is not just about selling, but about pre and post-cruise care, helping travel partners before guests go, when they are on board and when they get back.

“It’s great to have such focus on one brand.”

A team of seven will follow in the footsteps of Bayley’s affluent US customer drive by focusing on people and agents in London and the home counties, with more marketing investment being driven into this area in particular.

He believes new customers will come from competitors, but for him it’s more about attracting affluent new-to-cruise customers.

In terms of finding these people, Bayley believes the importance of the trade (it accounts for more than 80% of UK passengers) will remain and grow alongside other channels.

He explained “We want to be wherever the affluent customer wants to be and that is about optimisation of channel of choice.

“All channels need to be open and functioning at optimal level for customers and brand. All need to be simple, easy, open and appropriate whether it’s direct or trade business.

“As a brand we have always been committed to the trade channel and never wavered while competitors have moved around. We have always stayed committed.

“This is never going to change because when I talk to trade partners who have got it right it’s a beautiful relationship.“