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Innovation is key for generating customer loyalty, but not as a standalone aspect of a brand.

That was the message of Royal Caribbean’s managing director UK and Ireland, Stuart Leven, speaking at a cruise industry seminar at World Travel Market this week.

He was joined on the panel by Silversea UK commercial director Lisa McAuley; Celebrity Cruises director of marketing and PR, Toby Shaw; and Jos Dewing, Voyages to Antiquity’s managing director.

Moderator, Clia UK and Ireland director Andy Harmer, asked what the term “innovation” meant to the panel.

Leven said: “Innovation is a massive word. We have heard that one out of five customers has a preferred brand. That means four out of five are up for grabs, which is great.

“If that’s the case you need to do things to differentiate.”

Leven said it is important brands accept that many people want to “take their lives on holiday with them”, as part of the innovation process.

He said: “People like to be on social media and if you’ve got a product that doesn’t enable customers to do that, you’re taking a bit of their life away and that doesn’t work anymore.”

He continued: “There is a misconception that if one in five people are brand loyal, that means four in five are looking for the best deal.

“If that’s true you’ve got four cruise lines up here that wouldn’t have any customers, because we are not the cheapest, none of us are, and we are quite proud of that because we invest in the innovative side of what the person’s looking for.”

Shaw said part of Celebrity’s mission is to “extend what innovation means to customers”, from before they have started their holiday.

Celebrity recently launched Jet Set Sail, which offers use of a private VIP jet terminal at Stansted.

“Innovation can be about new ships and Wi-Fi but there are many ways to look at it,” he said, adding that the proposition is slightly different for new-to-cruise customers.

“The industry must explain that cruising can be many different types of holidays all wrapped up into one, as that is a main barrier,” he said.

McAuley said for Silversea, while new ‘hardware’ is important, it is the diversity of the expedition product that attracts people to the brand.

“We go to some fantastic unique places that you just wouldn’t be able to get to if it wasn’t for expedition cruising,” she said.

“Expedition cruisers see themselves as explorers, so you have to speak to them about the destination before you speak to them about the ship,” she said, describing the service to the customer on board as the “third pillar of innovation”.

Dewing, whose brand also specialises in cruises to lesser-visited places, said the company offers lecture programmes and excursions as part of the price.

“They want to see the best tour guides, the people who can teach them properly about a place,” he said.

Leven concluded that while it is good for brands to respond to customer feedback in terms of innovation, sometimes they have to “take a leap of faith”.

“We have to guess sometimes,” he said.

“Henry Ford said if we had asked people what they wanted they would have said faster horses.

“I think the cruise industry as a whole has shown over the last five to ten years that it’s taking that leap.

“If you look forward to 2023, there’s another 25 to 30 ships waiting to come into the market place.”