The price is right: will Covid-19 force a cruise ticketing rethink?

Julian Turner 22 February 2021 (Last Updated February 5th, 2021 10:56)

Celebrity Cruises’ new pricing structure includes new premium options and steps up its all-inclusive offers. Such innovations may become increasingly common following Covid-19, as operators respond to evolving customer expectations around onboard services and packages.

The price is right: will Covid-19 force a cruise ticketing rethink?
Celebrity Cruises premium options have become common following the Covid-19 pandemic. Credit: Pixabay.

Rightly or wrongly, the emergence of coronavirus in early 2020 will forever be linked in the public imagination with the cruise industry. Millions of people first became aware of the pandemic via images of stranded liners and passengers broadcast on TV and computer screens around the world.

Stories of virus outbreaks on cruise ships, followed by quarantines and cancelled itineraries, began to proliferate, followed by many more detailing the immense human and financial cost of Covid-19, including accusations that some cruise companies were slow to repatriate seafarers from vessels.

A year on, the majority of the estimated 400 cruise liners worldwide remain in port and the industry as a whole has suffered billions in losses. According to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), in Europe alone more than 200,000 jobs that depend directly or indirectly on cruising have been lost since March 2020, while tens of thousands of employees continue to work reduced hours.

In normal times, a story such as “Celebrity Cruises unveils new LuxurySM brand approach: ‘Always Included’” would command a few column inches in industry trade publications, but little more.

In these far-from-normal times, however, Celebrity Cruises’ change of course may well be indicative of a wider industry trend as operators endeavour to restore the industry’s reputation in the wake of Covid-19. Cruise lines will need to tempt both new customers and cruise aficionados onto their ships with an increased emphasis on simplicity and flexibility around ticketing, pricing and cancellation policies.

 

Reducing complexity around booking and cancellation

Cruising is one of the most customer-facing industries, and ticketing is one of the most visible and effective ways of differentiating a line from its rivals and gaining competitive advantage.

These fundamentals are arguably even more important in the wake of Covid-19. Restoring trust is paramount, as is convincing passengers that the level of luxury and customer service they have come to expect from operators is still achievable, even desirable, in the wake of the pandemic.

“People want to spend more time being inspired, not getting lost in a myriad of booking options.”

Customers want to feel safe when close to thousands of fellow passengers, but they are also likely to be craving simplicity and transparency – and that begins with the booking experience.

“After this challenging year, ease and peace of mind have become even more invaluable commodities,” said Peter Giorgi, vice-president and chief marketing officer of Celebrity Cruises, when the company unveiled its new ‘Always Included’ strategy. “People want to spend more time being inspired, not getting lost in a myriad of booking options.”

In the early days of the pandemic, cruise lines modified booking and cancellation policies to make them less restrictive, including extending the end-dates for suspensions of their operations.

This strategy persists as lines such as Seabourn and Princess tell customers that, should Covid-19 again decimate travel plans, they can cancel or rearrange at short notice.

The former company’s ‘Book with Confidence’ limited-time policy has been updated for 2021. Bookings made before 31 March 2021 for sailings departing prior to 31 December 2021 can be cancelled up to 30 days prior, with customers receiving future cruise credit (FCC) for cancel fees.

Similarly, Princess Cruise Lines has extended its ‘Cruise with Confidence’ policy. Bookings made through 2 March 2021 can be cancelled up to 30 days prior to sailing for voyages departing through 31 October 2021, with customers again receiving cancellation fees back as FCC that can be used for any trip that departs within a year of the original departure date or 1 May 2022, whichever is later

 

Simple pleasures: Celebrity unveils ‘Always Included’ strategy

Celebrity Cruises’ new ‘Always Included’ strategy – which becomes the new standard rate for the premium line – aims to put an end to confusing promotions, complicated add-ons and limited-time offers. Holidays booked after 17 November 2020 will include unlimited Wi-Fi and drinks, and tips are included, simplifying the experience and tapping into what the company calls a ‘New Luxury’ culture.

“Today, nothing is more luxurious than when things are extra simple and extra special,” said CEO and president of Celebrity Cruises Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. “We wanted to bring that big wonderful feeling of ‘everything is taken care of’ to life for our guests.”

Passengers can upgrade to the Elevate package, which includes unlimited premium drinks and adds shore excursions for up to $200 per person. Indulge includes everything in the Elevate package and adds to it with unlimited streaming Wi-Fi and up to an additional $200 per person in onboard credit.

Passengers booking suites as part of Celebrity’s ‘ship-within-a-ship’ Retreat package will receive the Indulge package automatically. The company has also changed its Celebrity Rewards programme and replaced traditional safety drills with ‘Muster 2.0’, a more personal digital experience that can be accessed by guests from any smart device or on a stateroom TV and completed prior to departure.

 

Cold comfort: Alaska itineraries and the Gen Z market

To support the launch of 2022 Alaska sailings, Celebrity Cruises is also offering customers increased peace of mind and visibility with a range of new selling tools and collateral aimed at Travel Partners.

A 2022–23 On Sale Toolkit Collection available on Celebrity Central will include itinerary summary flyers, Celebrity Cruisetour overviews and useful marketing material such as videos and imagery.

“A recent survey found that 60% of ‘Gen Zers’ and half of millennials would be comfortable booking a cruise before a vaccine comes out”

Celebrity plans to commence sailings to Alaska in early May, its earliest-ever start to the Alaska season, and has changed its packaging options so Travel Partners can take advantage of Celebrity’s 2022 Alaska and Canada Cruisetour, which comprises a seven-night sailing with a multi-night land tour.

Flexibility, transparency and trust: this approach, coupled with an increased emphasis on attracting a younger, as-yet-untapped demographic – a recent survey from consulting firm Mower found that 60% of ‘Gen Zers’ and half of millennials would be comfortable booking a cruise before a vaccine comes out – could at long last see cruise companies sail back into profit in the wake of Covid-19.