Until recently, cruise hospitality marketing was simple. Just think about it—you get treated like a king for weeks at a time, eating and drinking like a hungry schoolkid while visiting some of the most glamorous places on earth. No wonder, then, that the industry has long been breaking records left and right. In 2018 alone, for example, passenger numbers increased by a remarkable 7%.
With numbers that good, you might imagine that being a cruise marketer mainly involves sitting about drinking daiquiris. In truth, it was always harder than that—and has become even more difficult during COVID-19.
With the industry in shambles and some vessels already being sent to the scrapheap, cruising’s biggest names have had to fundamentally reassess their marketing strategies. And in a crowded field, arguably no one has done better than Carnival Cruises.
Even before the pandemic, Carnival seduced customers with warm, open language, personalizing the cruise experience better than anyone else. More recently, it’s taken these principles even further, using new technology to keep guests close.
But these lessons aren’t limited to the open seas. Here’s what any business can learn from Carnival’s hospitality marketing successes.
Destination One: Humoring Your Audience
When the pandemic was still just a glimmer in some Chinese bat’s eye, Carnival Cruises was showing the competition how hospitality marketing was done. In early 2020, they launched “The Fun Ones,” a new campaign designed in partnership with the American advertising agency Anomaly. Bold and playful, it vividly shows how enthusiasm can quickly develop an audience.
In Carnival’s case, that begins with language. Cruise marketing can veer towards the snobby side, but not here. By encouraging guests to be “shamelessly true to themselves” and proclaiming that “the fun ones go full flamingo” (next to a picture of a man laughing atop an inflatable bird, of course), Carnival gives potential passengers a glimpse of just how fun a cruise could be.
This sense of joy extends to other corners of the campaign, too. In January 2020, Carnival hired a Chief Fun Officer: none other than basketball superstar Shaquille O’Neal. Couple that with a lively advertising campaign on TV and YouTube—featuring Russian folk tunes and dad manicures—and it’s no wonder Carnival saw pre-COVID bookings soar.
MarketSmiths Case Study
One of the sexiest hotel firms around, Wyndham Hotel Group (WHG) was making major moves, from performing a detailed brand survey to acquiring another hotel brand. But to really succeed, these projects needed sparkling copy. Not easy any time, especially given WHG’s tight deadlines and vigorous fact-checking. But after tapping MarketSmiths, we took all this in our stride, polishing off page after page of copy ahead of schedule—and rich with detail to boot. Even better, we delivered timely insights into WHG’s mobile landscape, equipping their team with crucial background to reinvent their UX/UI. No wonder the group’s since gone on to even more remarkable things, cementing its place as one of the best hospitality firms around.
Destination Two: Keeping Up A Smile
As cruise companies know all too well, winning an audience is one thing. Keeping it, though, is quite another. With dozens of options to consider, from Norwegian to Royal Caribbean to Costa, there’s no reason passengers won’t—sorry—jump ship to the competition next time around.
With the pandemic canceling travel until further notice, operators are tasked with the challenge of keeping passengers loyal until ports reopen. But look to Carnival Cruises, and it’s obvious there’s plenty to do. That begins with a robust campaign around health and safety, clearly stating how staff would keep coronavirus at bay.
Once again, language is crucial here. Though it’s less bouncy than “The Fun Ones,” Carnival’s coronavirus messaging still promotes having a good time. If you become unwell, for example, you’re told you can contact one of Carnival’s “friendly” medical staff.
This jovial approach also extends to the company’s app. Marketed as the “Fun Hub,” it allows passengers to personalize every aspect of their cruise experience, from booking massages to checking restaurant menus. Guests can even get medical attention on their smartphones, once again dovetailing a positive customer experience with the more dreary realities of pandemic life.
The lesson for hospitality brands? In a sentence: even while navigating something as serious as a pandemic, you can probably afford to slip in a note of humor.
Destination Three: Lending A Helping Hand
Carnival puts their people—what they love, what they fear, and how to make them feel better—at the center of everything they do. Nowhere is that clearer than in their activism over the last few months. Since COVID-19 struck, the brand has set up a comprehensive platform to help travel advisors navigate the choppy economic waters.
In particular, Carnival’s toolkit helps advisors easily schedule follow-ups with potential customers, and offers email and letter templates to ensure passengers stay loyal until a vaccine arrives and they can venture onto the high seas once more.
This sense of friendly, cheery support doesn’t extend merely to Carnival’s customers, but to everyone they work with. There’s certainly a lesson or three for thoughtful hospitality marketing professional everywhere, whatever your industry—even if you’re a complete landlubber.
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