During the past few months, Celebrity Cruises has been working hard to get its marketing message right, according to company president Jack Williams. At the same time, a series of new services has been introduced aboard the 91,000-ton, 1,950-passenger Millennium, which, pending passengers' response, will soon be introduced fleetwide.

"Celebrity's goal is to be the best of the premium brands, with a taste of luxury, while the sister brand, Royal Caribbean International (RCI), is the best of the contemporary products," Williams said.

The plan also includes offering new and unique itineraries that will further help differentiate the brand.  

"We have come a long way already," Williams said, "and we are gradually building a marketing platform targeting savvy travelers. We have run two campaigns so far, both of which have been big successes. The brand awareness has moved up nine points since we started. Our message is that Celebrity offers rejuvenation, connection and enrichment.

"These are the principles that are driving all our onboard services on the Millennium. We have seen a substantial improvement in overall guest satisfaction on that ship," he continued.

Dietmar Wertanzl, senior vice president of fleet operations, described the new onboard services as "brand transformation initiatives." They include a complimentary glass of "welcome" champagne at embarkation, extended hours in the spa and gym, expanded choices in dining, late-night comedy shows, culinary demonstrations, cloth towels in the public rest rooms, elegant tea service in the specialty restaurants, and much more. "If premium cruises are four stars and luxury cruises are five stars, we want to be four-and-a­ half stars but at four-star prices. We want to be best in class," he added.

Celebrity also recently launched a quality assessment program whereby an outside firm (Richey International) will continuously be evaluating all aspects of guest services on every ship in the fleet. Traveling incognito, inspectors will provide Celebrity with a comprehensive qualitative and quantitative evaluation, according to W ertanzl. "They will do a detailed audit from check-in to room service and will help us identify and transform any problem areas," he said.

Celebrity is also introducing a new category of service, called "Concierge Class," whereby passengers who book a category A1 cabin, which are between regular cabins and the suites, receive special services such as priority embarkation and disembarkation.

Real People Are Celebrities

Marketing is also about breaking out of the clutter, according to Williams, who asked where it was stipulated that cruise line advertising had to show a waiter bending over to serve passengers.

"Our ads show faces - but they all wear the same T-shirt - which says Celebrity," Williams said. The ads seek to convey that Celebrity makes "real" people feel famous - or like celebrities.

Keys to Success

According to Steven Hancock, senior vice president of marketing, Celebrity had always had a great product but relatively low awareness. "Our goal is to communicate Celebrity to the market and to continue to build on our core values," he noted.

Another key is to help agents match the client to the ship and the cruise experience, according to Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of sales. "We must make sure that our travel industry partners (the travel agents) understand the brand and what Celebrity has to offer," she explained. "Our goal is to engage people in the brand and drive them into the travel agencies.

"We want to generate excitement. We want consumers to ask travel agents about Celebrity. Thus, we are also making sure that the agents are well educated." Celebrity gets 95 percent of its passengers from travel agents.

Celebrity has not only launched efforts to differentiate itself and to sell cruises, it also tracks its progress. "We measure everything we do," Hancock explained. "We have seen significantly increased awareness both among consumers and agents." Another tool that Hancock employs is bis own on­ line consumer panel with "several thousand participants," which allows him almost instant feedback to new ideas.

Itineraries may also be changing to fit the brand profile better, according to James Haller, manager of deployment and itinerary planning. "Our goal is to have different deployments and we have a greater percentage of seasonal markets than our sister company RCI. Even when we sail in the same regions, we try to differentiate Celebrity within the itinerary," Haller pointed out, noting that the company is looking to expand its realm of exotic itineraries. "In the future you will see fewer of our ships in the Caribbean," he predicted.

Business Model

Williams described himself as the referee for the two brands, which are run by different brand managements for sales and marketing, hotel and fleet operations. Only back-office operations, including purchasing, are shared. Each brand has a separate sales plan, separate marketing and separate revenue objectives.

He said that the business model allows for more efficient operation and deployments of the two brands, complementing rather than competing with each other.

"If you put the marketing for Celebrity and RCI side by side, it is obvious that these are two very different brands," Williams said.

The focus is to get the image right and to get the pricing up. "There is clearly a space for this brand in the market. We are getting very good demand. After all, Celebrity is only 12 years old - much younger than the competing brands - and has doubled its capacity in the last two to three years," Williams said.

(A full company profile is running in the spring issue of the Cruise Industry News Quarterly.)