Full steam ahead

No longer for "newlyweds and nearly deads," the cruise industry is growing its business, with PR helping to navigate the way.

No longer for "newlyweds and nearly deads," the cruise industry is growing its business, with PR helping to navigate the way.

There was a time, not so long ago, when the words "cruise vacation" meant two things: food and booze. Recently, though, cruise options have greatly expanded - and PR campaigns around them have grown in direct proportions.

This May, Royal Caribbean International launched its Freedom of the Seas, currently the largest cruise ship in existence. Freedom helped "set [industry] benchmarks for the introduction of ships to come," says Rene Mack, president of the New York-based global travel practice at Weber Shandwick, the firm behind the launch's extensive PR efforts.

In addition to showcasing the new vessel, Mack says, the goal of the Freedom campaign "was to break some of the stereotypes about cruising in general. It's not just for the newlywed, overfed, and nearly dead."

PR played a critical role in the marketing process. Work, which began almost two and a half years prior to the ship's arrival, was a "major undertaking and logistical nightmare" Mack recalls. But it resulted in a Today segment, program, and contest "that really resonated with viewers. It [was] what was inside [that] showed them the possibilities."

In addition to Today, the team also reached out to media targeting families, fitness enthusiasts, and business communities, says Tracy Quan, director of brand communications for Miami-based Royal Caribbean International. And RCI kept its 30,000 global employees in the loop via VODcast newsletters, Quan says, which "made them feel like they were part of the launch itself."

Following the initial media push, Quan says, Royal Caribbean saw an overall increase in unaided brand awareness of 23% from October 2005-May 2006. "That's the highest level in Royal Caribbean history," she says. "[Company] chairman Richard Fein took a calculated risk - and it paid off."

"There's something for everyone now" in terms of size, amenities, environment, and price point, says Brian Major, PR director at New York-based Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a nonprofit consortium to promote and market the cruise industry.

According to the CLIA, its 19 member lines will see a collective 11.7 million passengers this year, up from 11.2 million in 2005. Major says the organization credits this rise in part to large-scale building programs of the '90s, which introduced new ships and ports throughout the US. With this, he says, came greater consumer consciousness of the cruise industry's offerings and value. And, Major adds, cruise lines are becoming very attuned to consumer lifestyle trends.

Cooking up new ideas

Holland America's VP of PR Rose Abello says the Seattle-based line is at the forefront of one massive trend with its Culinary Arts Center program.

The company partnered last year with Food & Wine magazine to schedule guest chefs, sommeliers, and cheese makers to conduct classes and demonstrations "on every ship, on every trip," Abello says. To accommodate this, she explains, all Holland America vessels have been equipped with "cooking studios very much like what you'd see on a food TV show."

The program, which launched at the 2005 Aspen Wine and Food Classic, received "tons of media coverage," Abello says.

It's only been a year, she adds, but passenger response has been outstanding. "It's so on trend with the passion everybody has about food," she notes.

The Cunard Line, a company seeped in maritime heritage, offers a different kind of experience on its trans-Atlantic ocean voyages, says Brian O'Connor, PR director for the Valencia, CA-based line.

Central to Cunard's PR efforts is an interdependent relationship with the arts, says Vickie Feldman de Falco, partner with the line's New York-based AOR Redpoint Marketing PR.

Cunard continues to cater to luxury-seeking customers, O'Connor says, though "the brand is looking to communicate to a slightly younger demographic." Part of that plan involves a focus on enrichment courses, intimate, on-ship programs that revolve around culture, music, film, technology, and history.

Like Royal Caribbean, Cunard integrated itself into the public discourse in 2004 by launching its lavish Queen Mary 2 (QM2) - then the world's largest passenger ship - to great fanfare and coverage.

Though O'Connor notes that Cunard's "Golden Age of travel" legacy will endure, the brand has also adapted to address passengers' contemporary demands.

To that end, de Falco says, the company has partnered with "two very powerful brands that speak to the evolution of the traditional Cunard passenger:" Canyon Ranch Spa and chef Todd English. Amenities from both are available aboard the QM2; they will also be reflected on Cunard's soon-to-launch Queen Victoria.

Jason Lasecki, PR director for Orlando-based Disney Cruise Line, says that some changes are essential for booking repeat guests, which make up 40% of his company's business.

Enhancements made in direct correlation to guests' suggestions, Lasecki says, include an expanded toddler splash zone, improved meeting facilities, Disney film-division tie-ins, and new destination itineraries.

Lasecki adds that his in-house PR team is "getting more into podcasting," and expects to unveil a series of 12, 3- to 4-minute customized video podcasts this winter.

"As opposed to, 'I have to sit down and watch this video,'" he explains, "podcasts will be direct-to-consumer. They can get the information right at their fingertips."

Another Disney asset, Lasecki notes, is its ship's on-board satellite capability. "It's a great opportunity for TV stations to leverage," he says, "especially throughout the January to March 'wave' period."

As Royal Caribbean prepares to make waves of its own with the May 2007 launch of the second in its Freedom series, Liberty at Sea, it's hard to imagine what could potentially be next on the PR front.

"Expectations are that if it could be done once, it can be done again," says WS' Mack. "Freedom of the Seas raised expectations, but also raised awareness that PR can certainly drive the [marketing] process."

Key cruise players

Carnival Corporation

2005 revenue: $ 11.1 billion
2005 passengers carried: 6,848,386
Brands include:
 Carnival Cruise Lines
 Princess Cruises
 Holland America Line
 P&O Cruises

Royal Caribbean Cruises

2005 revenue: $4.9 billion
2005 passengers carried: 3,476,287
Brands include:
 Royal Caribbean International
 Celebrity Cruises

Star Cruises

2005 revenue: $1.96 billion
Brands include:
 Star Cruises
 Norwegian Cruise Line
 Orient Lines

Source: PhoCusWright; companies' annual reports

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