It would be great to blog about good news all the time. Oasis of the Seas, My Time Dining. The positive reception to the altered Mariner of the Seas itinerary that merits consideration for future itinerary planning. And did I mention Oasis of the Seas? Actually, I noted the ship twice on purpose, once for the unprecedented physical features you probably know about and a second time for the many operational enhancements we have not yet made public. More on those soon.
There is of course more to our current reality than incessant good news, and one of my responsibilities/opportunities is to blog about sources of guest dissatisfaction when they arise. We never seek guest dissatisfaction, however as I have noted in a previous entry we are constantly managing trade-offs that are inherent in our business. Some of these issues have been well noted by our guests, particularly our valued loyal guests, in recent months. I will comment on these issues, knowing the readers will not necessarily agree with my view. But thanks for reading just the same.
Elimination of Concierge Lounge access for Diamond Crown & Anchor members
Much has been written about our decision to restrict the number of guests with access to the Concierge Lounge. Our desire to deliver a great guest experience drove this decision. We cannot adequately handle the volume of Diamond, Diamond Plus and Suite guests who currently have access to the Concierge Lounge on 10 of our 20 ships (Mariner, Navigator, Adventure, Explorer, Voyager, Jewel, Serenade, Brilliance, Radiance and Enchantment — these are the ships that have a Concierge Lounge but do not have a Diamond Lounge. Freedom, Liberty and Independence have both Diamond and Concierge Lounges; the other seven ships have neither). On approximately 60% of the sailings on these ships we need to set up a satellite lounge due to the overcrowding.
In order to optimize the use of the available space in the Concierge Lounges, we will offer access to the Concierge Lounge to Diamond Plus and Suite guests (suite categories consisting of Grand Suites and above) as of the sailings of September 1st. For sailings post-September 1st, we will create a dedicated VIP-type environment for Diamond members in a public lounge every night of each cruise on all 17 ships that do not have a Diamond Lounge. We will also create an opportunity each morning for Diamond guests to receive concierge-type services and continental breakfast.
We understand this is an important change as compared to having access to a dedicated lounge on the 10 ships in question. Our people will do their best to make it an enjoyable nightly experience. Also, this will be an enhancement on the 7 ships that do not have a Concierge Lounge. This is a service enhancement for Diamond Plus and Suite guests and a service reduction for Diamond guests. Many Diamond guests have asked us to grandfather the existing Diamond members. Unfortunately this would guarantee the perpetuation of the crowding problem we must alleviate. In addition, many Diamond guests have asked us to continue to provide a full range of free beverages in the evening in the designated public lounge. We are not comfortable to do so in that setting.
I realize this is not a small change, and I apologize to our affected Diamond members. We will work hard to make the new program as beneficial as possible and a proper recognition of the great loyalty our guests demonstrate to us.
Elimination of Combinability of Various Discounts on our Ticket Prices
We really messed up on this one. Our intention and policy has been consistent from the beginning – ask our customers to choose which one of the available applicable discounts they prefer to use for a given booking. This is a well-established practice for retail. Unfortunately we dropped the ball in our execution and allowed significant numbers of customers to double and triple dip. The discounts in question are primarily the shareholder benefit, the Next Cruise onboard credit and certain Crown & Anchor discounts. We have now begun to enforce our policy as intended.
Many of our customers would like the combinability to continue. Unfortunately, combinability results in bookings that do not benefit our business. We need to set our discounts at compelling levels on the basis that only one will be used per booking. Returning to where we should always have been has been hard on our customers who were simply doing what our people were allowing them to do. I apologize (again).
Changes to the Ultimate Value Booklets for Crown & Anchor members
One of the ways we recognize our Crown & Anchor members is to provide them with Ultimate Value Booklets containing discounts and benefits available during their cruise. The content of the booklet evolves over time based on multiple variables including what guests tell us they value, how guests use the benefit or the service to which the benefit relates, what our revenue partners will support (e.g., the providers of our spa/fitness, photo and retail offerings) and what is logistically feasible to deliver. Speaking futuristically, it should be possible to have these discounts and benefits preprogrammed into the Seapass card so they automatically apply without the necessity of creating and managing tens of thousands of booklets.
Whenever there is an evolution that reduces a benefit in the booklet, it is an issue and understandably so. This happens from time to time. For example, the photo benefit in the Diamond booklets is now 20 % off a white lifestyle portrait photo. Until late 2007 the photo benefit was one free photo. In this case, the economics of offering a free photo did not work for our photo provider which resulted in the change. As an aside, many guests understand this as a more recent change because the ships were using up older booklets before distributing newer booklets. Another change that is both more recent and completely within our own domain is the transition of the Johnny Rockets benefit from one entry into the restaurant without a service charge to a two for one offer on milkshakes. The goal of the benefit was to inspire multiple visits to Johnny Rockets. The actual effect was to inspire one visit to Johnny Rockets. We will continue to strive for the right balance of benefits, always looking to increase our guest satisfaction and enjoyment of the many services we provide onboard. In the new edition of the booklet we have added a coupon for $5 off laundry of $25 or more for Diamond and Platinum members. I have instructed my team to keep the Ultimate Value Booklets “stable” through 2009.
Removal of Chocolates from the Pillows at Night
We provided small chocolates on the pillow for many, many years and it was indeed a nice touch at the end of another enjoyable day of cruising. We decided to eliminate the chocolates outside of our suites for two reasons. One is our strong desire to eliminate waste where possible. According to our Hotel Operations and Supply Chain groups, on an annual basis we have been throwing away approximately 35,000 pounds (17.5 tons!) of chocolate covered by 780,000 square feet of foil. Many (but probably not all) readers are aware that public health rules require us to dispose of all such unused chocolates notwithstanding that they are foil wrapped. In our opinion, throwing away such a volume of chocolate and foil is not environmentally sustainable behavior. Second, we want to re-purpose the investment in these chocolates into the continued evolution of the onboard experience. We did not make this decision lightly. It was hard to say good-bye to the chocolates and we know some of our guests read into this a decline in our product quality. But we believe this is the right decision to make.
Room Service Charge after midnight $3.95 per order
This has been an interesting one for me as I resisted the implementation of this charge for about five years. We had seen a competitor try to introduce this some years back (on a 24 hour basis) and to put it mildly the initiative didn’t go well. My skepticism was worn down over the years by persistent and increasing anecdotes about how much wasteful ordering was taking place. And when I say wasteful ordering, I mean remarkable amounts of ordered and unconsumed food. Nevertheless, I requested our hotel operation to limit the charge period to after midnight as that is when most of the wasteful ordering takes place. Since we implemented the charge, the number of room service orders between midnight and 5 a.m. has reduced by two-thirds. Room service satisfaction ratings have improved significantly. And adverse comments are minimal.
Charge for Chops Steak in the Dining Room
Within our large fleet we are able to do tests of new ideas on individual ships before we make fleetwide decisions. In this case, we tested several approaches on several ships and while we were in the middle of the testing period the “story got out” in a way that disadvantaged the eventual implementation. We are probably still recovering from the way this unfolded and it is a good reminder of the value of clear and early communication of our intentions.
We are very proud of our Chops Grill steakhouses and believe they represent one of the finest specialty restaurant experiences at sea. There are a variety of reasons why someone might order a Chops steak in the dining room as opposed to in Chops itself: Chops has a cover charge ($25), it may be full, only 10 of our 20 ships have Chops, it has an age restriction (13 and higher), there may be people in a family or group who do not want to eat in Chops, etc. So, while maintaining our standard everyday offering of an a la carte steak for no charge, we decided to introduce the possibility of ordering a Chops steak in the main dining room for $14.95. Charging for a food item in the dining room is unusual or maybe even unprecedented, and this caused a commotion completely out of proportion to its significance. We might introduce similar concepts in the future but we have no specific plans at this time.
Elimination of the Daily Newspapers
This one probably hasn’t gotten as much attention as the preceding items, but I’m having so much fun I don’t want to stop. For many years we have printed and distributed summaries of daily news in English and other languages. Recently we discontinued this amenity on the basis that with internet-enabled ships and CNN and other stations on the stateroom televisions, our guests will source the news when and how they wish in more relevant ways. This saves a very significant amount of paper and once again allows us to re-purpose resources towards what we believe will be better and broader uses.
So, what might the reader take and not take from all of this? First, hopefully this will remain forever my longest blog entry. Second, we don’t take any changes in our offering lightly and we understand our guests will examine any deviation from the status quo under an electron microscope. Third, there are reasons for the decisions we make and this blog may serve a purpose as a forum for communicating the reasons for decisions we make in the future. Fourth, the reasons for the above changes are quite diverse and unrelated. They do not represent a “slippery slope”. Our mission is to Deliver the Wow at every moment. Our ratings are strong and I’m comfortable that the benefits of innovations such as My Time Dining outweigh any negatives. Having said that, we simply must take into account the great loyalty that many of our long time cruisers demonstrate to us and make sure their experience remains positive and their loyalty recognized. We value our guests’ input and seek it frequently through many avenues. We will continue to listen to your suggestions and include them in our internal discussions. Thank you for making it all the way to the end of this entry.