I’ve been threatening a guest entry on our ship deployment process and here it is courtesy of Diana Block, VP, Revenue Management & Deployment, and Chris Allen, Director, Deployment & Itinerary Planning. Diana and Chris also do this work for Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises not to mention that Diana is responsible for the pricing of our cruises. So we’re talking a lot of responsibility. Some of you no doubt would like more specific information on the actual choices we make (e.g., why aren’t there year round cruises out of Galveston?). Unfortunately, for legal reasons we cannot comment on those specifics in public plus we argue so much about these things in private that we don’t want to air our dirty laundry. Deployment issues are BY FAR the most frequently recurring discussion topics at my monthly staff meetings.
Recently, Adam mentioned that readers of this blog have a keen interest in how we decide where to deploy our ships. As he said, this is a particularly difficult task as we have demand from across the US and around the world from consumers to both cruise from near their homes and to visit new and exciting places in the world. Our goal is to provide the best possible experience for our guests while delivering profitability to our shareholders. So, the big question is…how do we do this?
The process starts with a significant amount of research. It’s the feedback of our Crown & Anchor guests, potential guests and our trade partners that guide us on the types of vacations we should be offering. First, we conduct formal consumer research. Then, we actually go through the enormous task of reading every free form comment ever written on a guest comment card about itineraries or specific destinations. We augment this information with post cruise surveys on specific port experiences, and feedback from tour operators in hundreds of destinations, and from our travel agent partners.
Once we have a sense of where our guests want to vacation and for how long, we run pretty rigorous financial modeling on all of our options. Frankly, we want to put the ships where they are going to bring us the best financial return. This modeling needs to include all potential revenue streams and costs that are directly related to our destinations. These include fuel, port expenses, and a number of other items like the costs to fly our crew to and from various destinations and the cost of supplies and provisions around the world. We even have to understand tax implications in different parts of the world that will vary based on the ports of call we choose.
A part of this analysis includes an understanding of the guest demographics of any specific product. For example, the question is not just “Should we put a ship in Australia?”. The question is, “If we put a ship in Australia, who is our target market and what are the implications to the itinerary we provide.” For example, we have received feedback from a travel agent partner in the US that it would be desirable for us to overnight in Sydney on an Australia turnaround. We understand that this would be desirable for a guest who is traveling from the US, Europe, or South America. But, since our program in Australia attracts guests not only from around the world, but also from Australia, we may look at this differently. The overnight in Sydney is not as attractive to the guest who lives in Sydney or the neighboring area. We must always understand the composition of our guests in order to make the appropriate decisions.
Once we decide where in the world the ships will sail, we need to decide where they will be based So…what is important for a turnaround port? It is imperative that a “home port” or “turnaround port” have proper facilities for the guest boarding and debark process, and often our provisioning process. We also need to understand the size of the local market and the availability and cost of air lift into that market to ensure guests can get to the ship easily.
When creating an overall itinerary, there are a number of factors that come into play. These include the quality of the experience in the port, time/speed/distance between the ports, government regulations (including the Passenger Vessel Services Act in the US and cabotage laws in places like Brazil and Australia), environmental impacts, immigration laws, and port infrastructure. When considering a specific day or how many hours to spend in port, it is imperative that we stay long enough for guests to visit the key attractions but we must also consider things like local holidays and hours the shops and attractions operate.
We must then contact the ports to ensure we can get a “reservation” on a specific date and time. This is quite a puzzle in places like the Caribbean and the Mediterranean where we have multiple ships and need to ensure we don’t have too many in the same place on the same day. This is further complicated by the fact that other cruise lines are planning at the same time and we don’t have visibility to their plans. If we can’t get a “reservation” on the desired date, we must go back to the drawing board and find suitable alternatives which could be changing the port order (if possible) or finding a replacement destination.
So, if you are interested in becoming an itinerary planner, I suggest you go out and buy a Rubik’s cube. If you have the skill and the patience to complete the puzzle, this is the perfect job for you!! As always, we welcome your thoughts and comments.