Could Cruise Lines Work Together on Industry-Wide Marketing Campaign?

When mid-sized to large ships receive approval from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to restart cruising from U.S. ports, will travel advisors see a robust promotional campaign by the cruise industry as a whole—akin to what the dairy industry created with its “Got Milk” campaign in the past?

That's a question that John Lovellpresident, Travel Leaders Group, asked Arnold Donald, president and CEO, Carnival Corporation, during a fireside chat with advisors and media last week. While Travel Agent previously covered many newsworthy gleanings (cruise bookings, voyage restart timing and vaccine use) from that chat in a story last week, here's additional insight from Donald on the big picture. 

Industry Restart Campaign Collaboration?

John Lovell“When the dairy farmers were really struggling, they came together and put together the ‘Got Milk’ campaign,” Lovell (shown in the photo at right) emphasized, adding that, for example, it wasn’t a case of Bordens promoting itself over other brands.

Lovell advocated that the cruise industry similarly talk ”with one voice to say cruising is safe.”He asked Donald if he believed the industry would work together to get to that point for the betterment of the entire industry?

Responding that the industry collaborates well and did so right from the start of the pandemic, Donald said: “We all voluntarily paused, before it was mandated to do so, and it wasn’t just Carnival … It was the industry voluntarily…We did that together without any pressure from CDC, or anybody else.”

He believes it’s one aspect of the cruise industry to be proud of, not that there aren’t times of difference of opinions, different approaches and so on. "But we work that out," said Donald.

Yet, while Donald believes the lines are “all in this together,” when considering a "Got Milk?"-style industry campaign, he said “in terms of a singular campaign, it’s less likely. The reason is that our business is global.”

Donald said because cruise lines don’t simply source U.S. travelers for sailings from the U.S. but for sailings out of other places across the globe, they're dealing with different regulations, approaches, fleet deployment levels and more. “So, there are legitimate but subtle differences," Donald stressed. 

Another factor, he mentioned is “the reality is that we don’t have a crisis of demand in cruise—we don’t.” Reduced berth capacity, as the lines have shed many ships, mean that pent-up consumer demand by past cruisers—plus any reduced capacity steps lines may take onboard to create better social distancin—will mean that the lines will attract enough cruisers to fill the ships initially.

“We just have to make sure that we’re doing the right things and they’re comfortable when they’re onboard, like we’re doing now in Italy and Germany,” Donald said, referring to big ship cruises on the company's 

brands. “As long as we do that for people who have cruised, we’re going to be okay. We’re not going to need to expand the market right away, simply because we’re going to have less capacity.”

So, “I think it’s unlikely you’ll see a big 'Got Milk?'-[style] campaign because we may be addressing the wrong thing,” he said. “I think what we need to address is much more about where can you go, how can you get there; we need to make sure we’re focused on people being able to travel, those kinds of things.”

Lessons of European Sailings

What are the lessons that have been learned thus far about the European sailings, Lovell asked. “Were you pleased with everything?”

It’s never about being pleased with everything, Arnold replied: “It’s always continuous improvement."

Donald also noted that the voyages that have operated thus far (since the initial shut-down earlier last year) have been limited: Single ships sailing with lower occupancy. It was a lot of change, and Donald said it was important "to make sure we started slow and our crew have the experience.”

Arnold acknowledged that the cruise lines have had incidents of COVID-19-like symptoms or COVID itself onboard last fall, even with the universal testing prior to boarding and testing onboard.

“But that got managed well, got handled at ports properly; it didn’t tie up everybody else on the ship and we had some contact tracing to make certain that we knew what the exposures were and so on," Arnold stressed. "And so, it worked.”

He noted that other companies (such as MSC Cruises) have had similar results “and sailed even additional weeks than we did.”

Weighing the Risk

The European experience has “demonstrated that you can do it successfully," Donald said. "It’s also demonstrated you can’t guarantee zero risk…even with the testing regimens in place." That’s the nature of this virus, he emphasized. "There’s little windows where you test, the person isn’t manifesting [symptoms or a positive test], then two days go by and then they do…So, it’s tricky. But again, you can mitigate the spread.”

Donald also said that, historically, there’s less risk of contracting the virus on a cruise ship than there is with similar activities ashore: “So, as long as we’ve got that in balance—since society has declared what risk they want to live with—then we feel comfortable.”

Lovell concurred, noting “there is no zero-risk in life—by waking up and going outside, getting in a car, walking across the street, you’re taking a risk every day.”

With lessening hospitalization rates and the potential of fewer deaths moving forward (with vaccine use), Lovell's take?: "We’re going to start getting back to normalized risk and I think that’s the important thing people need to take away from this.”

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