Tuesday,  September 22, 2020  3:53 am

Not a “light switch approach:” Celebrity’s comeback will be safety-driven & staggered, says team


Not a “light switch approach:” Celebrity’s comeback will be safety-driven & staggered, says team
The Celebrity Edge
Christine Hogg

Christine Hogg is the Associate Digital Editor at PAX Global Media. Prior to joining PAX, she obtained her Honours BA in Journalism from the University of Toronto. Upon graduating, she went on to write for several travel publications while travelling the world. Her longest trip was a three-week stint in Europe, and the shortest was a 16-hour adventure in Iceland. Get in touch: christine@paxglobalmedia.com.

Like many cruise lines, Celebrity Cruises is eager to dip its propellers back in the waters.

The COVID-19 pandemic has put a minor dent in the company’s 2020 operations, but the leading faces behind the brand say that the lights will come back on soon—just not all at once.

On May 12, Celebrity Cruises held a webinar exclusively for its Canadian travel agents, led by Allan Brooks, director of sales, Canada; Dondra Ritzenthaler, vice president, sales; Keith Lane, vice-president of sales, North America and Central America; and Ron Gulaskey, AVP of national accounts and trade relations.

“When we come back, it’s not going to be a light switch approach; it’s not going to be that on this date, all of our ships across the world are sailing,” Ritzenthaler said. “When we come back, we’re going to stagger them, and we’re also not going to go to 100 per cent capacity.”

For starters, Celebrity wants to leverage all of the new protocols and safety measures it’s working on right now.

“We want to make sure people are comfortable,” Ritzenthaler said. “We’re going to ease into our capacity, like a dimmer switch, that gets a little bit brighter as you keep going.”

Ritzenthaler recognized the challenges the industry has faced in these unprecedented times.

“We don’t want to make light of that, but we want to look forward,” she said. “We need to change the way that we operate in a fundamentally different way.”

Dondra Ritzenthaler, vice president, sales, Celebrity Cruises.

She anticipates that by March and April 2021, full operations will resume.

When COVID-19 first made the headlines, Ritzenthaler admits that cruise lines were cast in a negative light—many passengers on other cruise lines, for example, were “trapped” on board, unable to disembark due to health and safety concerns surrounding the virus.

Now, Celebrity is working on a series of new safety protocols and changes, and ensuring that they are clear and uncomplicated to ensure travel agents trust the company enough to recommend and sell it to their clients, once travel is possible again.

“We’ve always been with the trade and the travel advisors since our company’s existence, and we really feel like we have conveyed that in what we’ve done recently,” Lane said.

Canadians DO want to cruise

Toronto, Montreal, and Vancouver make up 57 per cent of Celebrity’s current bookings, with Toronto dominating the majority of the market.

After a recent five-day “Dream Big” sale, Canada is now responsible for an influx of bookings.

“Canada was trailing behind, but now it’s sprinting,” said Gulaskey.

Gulaskey notes that for 2020, the majority of Celebrity’s financial success stems from Q4 Caribbean bookings. Early Europe bookings, as well as Alaska sailings, remain top sellers for Canadians. 

“A lot of people who redeem their Future Cruise Credits (FCCs) have booked the same ship and the same sail date for next year, if they’re not going in Q4 of this year,” Gulaskey said.

Families are going to be a “big deal” because they’ve all been stuck at home together with nowhere to go, and they’re ready to get out, Ritzenthaler added.

“Deal seekers are another, and travel agents should expect to see more of these in the next few days,” she said.

Gulaskey advises agents to look out for loyalty guests because 88 per cent of the bookings in Canada, right now, are stemming from those customers.

Canadian advisors should keep an eye out for travellers who meet the following criteria:

  • Aged 40-59 with a $150,000 income bracket
  • Interested in six or seven nights in Alaska and the Caribbean
  • Interested in six to 10 nights in Europe

Upper inventory is a huge selling point right now, Gulaskey notes. Veranda categories, Aqua Class, and suites have been in hot demand for the last six weeks.

“We strongly advise you to convert those FCCs now,” Lane added.

“If somebody asks for a full refund, we strongly suggest you ask ‘why,’ because what we’re finding is they’ve heard some things from other cruise lines,” Gulaskey added. “This doesn’t mean they don’t want to cruise, it might mean they don’t want to cruise with that particular cruise line, so we really recommend you ask them why, because this is a great opportunity for you to talk about Celebrity.”

Consumers need to feel comfortable sailing on Celebrity, which is a driving force behind the company's new sanitation measures. Pictured: The Magic Carpet aboard Celebrity Edge (supplied).

What are consumers waiting for?

Canada has encountered several unique obstacles in the cruising market that other countries, like the United States and Mexico, have not had to manage.

The currency exchange, travel restrictions, travel insurance and aviation closures are four examples.

“In order for the bookings to flow in, two things need to happen,” Gulaskey said. “We have to instill confidence that we’re a clean, safe environment that has changed, and we have to give you a great offer.”

Celebrity Cruises will unveil a brand-new offer very soon, the team promised.

According to Lane, Canadian consumers are waiting for three things before they pack their bags and sail again:

  • Celebrity’s health and safety protocol: what’s changed?
  • What’s the very best offer available to me?
  • When and where will the ships be going?

“Our goal is to make our ships the safest place to vacation on the planet,” Lane said. “We’re doing a lot of data-driven planning and we’ve got intense sanitation protocols in place. But this won’t ever interfere with the guest experience on board.”

Touchpoints are a crucial point of analysis for Celebrity in the coming weeks.

“We don’t want to be the first to come out with it [sanitary measures], we want to be the best,” Lane said.

Celebrity has enhanced its Cruise with Confidence policy, which protects the price and promotion for guests who book the same cruise one year from their original sail date.

The company also offers a “best price, best offer” guarantee, which lets guests change the price and/or promotion 48 hours prior to sailing.

Allan Brooks, director of market sales for Canada, Celebrity Cruises.

Standing by agents

Celebrity Cruises has several incentives on for Canadian travel advisors during the COVID-19 pandemic, to ensure they can confidently book future sailings.

For starters, the company is doubling their loyalty points (1,000 instead of 500).

Celebrity also promises to protect commission thresholds, and will honor current commission levels in 2021/2022, regardless of performance in 2020.

Even if thresholds go down, Celebrity will not penalize agents by lowering commission levels.

Also, Celebrity no longer requires a 70+ “Fit To Travel” letter for guests who are 70 years of age and above.

“If people 70 and above are healthy and they don’t have a pre-existing condition, they should feel confident,” Lane said.

Double name changes on the Group/FIT can also be changed up to 48 hours prior to sailing.

New guests must sail in 2020, with a request submitted by Sept. 1, 2020.

FCCs can also have one name change with no repercussions, for example, if that individual is in a vulnerable age bracket, they can pass their FCC off to someone else.

No deposit groups can hold up to 50 staterooms on all 2020 sailings. Group rates will also be protected if the group runs out of inventory, allowing agents to add up to five cabins.

Travel agents can now access and manage all of their FCCs by logging into www.cruisingpower.com. From there, agents simply select the “booking tool” tab, and select “insight.” From there, it’s a simple step-by-step process that allows agents to rebook their clients.

For more information, travel advisors can visit www.thecelebritycommitment.com.


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