“I wanted all of our ships to be welcoming and inclusive. I want a gay couple to feel safe and welcomed every single night of the week, in every space, on every ship. And fortunately, thanks to the type of passengers we attract, I think they do.” Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, CEO, Celebrity Cruises
In the post-pandemic world, Celebrity Cruises is reinventing itself in a massive way. Not only are they coming back with hefty safety protocols to keep their crew and passengers safe, but they’re also returning to the seas with a new dedication to diversity and inclusivity.
Recently, the cruise line released a new ad campaign that not only fills viewers with wanderlust, but also shows a wide range of cruise passengers, many of whom are rarely seen in travel commercials, such as LGBTQ people, disabled passengers, and people of color. Celebrity has even restarted their Instagram page in order to better reflect the new brand. Passport sat down with Celebrity Cruises’ CEO, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, and CMO, Michael Scheiner to chat about Celebrity’s new initiatives and what sailing is like post-lockdown.
COVID has obviously changed the cruise industry forever. What made you want to come back to cruising not only with new health and safety standards but also with a desire to show off a whole new brand and vibe?
Lisa: The new ad was actually pretty easy for us because Celebrity has always been an extremely welcoming brand. The ad spot was really more of a way for us to celebrate and share the views we already had.
It was basically the culmination of everything that’s been happening here at Celebrity. As you can imagine, the cruise industry was hit extremely hard during the pandemic. I can’t think of another industry that was completely shut down for as long as the cruise lines were.
But this actually gave us a lot of time to sit back, recollect, and plan for the future. You know, I always like to say “never let a good crisis go to waste!” We recognized there was nothing we could do about COVID and about being shut down…but we could focus on our brand and decide how we wanted to re-emerge from it all. We wanted our comeback to be stronger than the setback. We really focused on “Who do we want to be after this.”
So, we made some changes. We increased our focus on guests, we moved more into the luxury space with always-included prices which allows passengers to have things like drinks and wi-fi included in the fare, and ultimately, simplifying the cruise experience so people can spend more time enjoying themselves.
Michael: I was able to go on the Celebrity Edge when I first started, and what really blew me away was how different this company is compared to other cruise lines. The experience on our ships is totally different from what most people would think of as a typical cruise. The new ad campaign was basically my way of articulating what the Celebrity experience has been like for me. As Lisa said, the brand was already doing lots of fun things and it already was inclusive. The ad spot was my way of showing that to the world.
You also completely restarted the company’s Instagram account, which I found to be really brave and daring. What made you want to start over?
Michael: Well, my philosophy is that Instagram is a place that’s designed to inspire people. I wanted to start over with the company’s new direction because I wanted to really give people a great space to look forward to their next adventure. And we’ve seen some great responses to it. We’re getting wonderful comments and reactions on our new content, so I think the change has been a great way to better connect with travelers.
Here’s an embarrassing fact about me, I’ve never been on a cruise before. In preparation for our chat, I thought to myself, what would be the most important things I’d consider before choosing a cruise line? What I came up with was safety, enjoyment, and inclusivity. Moving forward, how will Celebrity handle those three things to help make people feel safe and excited to cruise again?
Lisa: I’ll start with safety. As a brand, we decided very early on that we were going to require vaccines. We’re very fortunate at Celebrity because we attract a certain type of passenger. We get world travelers and people who like to explore. In fact, a little-known statistic is that 82% of Celebrity Cruise passengers hop on a plane before they begin their cruise. We’ve got cruises that go to Alaska, around Europe, and even the Galapagos Islands. So luckily, we have a self-selecting passenger base which tends to be people who care about their health and the health of the planet, so we haven’t had any issues with requiring vaccinations.
We are also one of the cruise lines working with the Healthy Sail panel, so we’ve been working throughout the pandemic to learn the best ways to keep passengers safe. We’ve also checked the HVAC systems on every single ship to ensure that they are consistent and we even expanded our medical staff onboard all vessels. Right now, 100% of our crew is vaccinated and about 99% of our passengers are. The only reason it isn’t 100% is because of small children and people who are unable to get vaccinated.
Michael: For the experience, I’ve been blown away because our guest ratings have actually improved since coming back from COVID, and I think our safety protocols have a lot to do with that. Sure, some of them may take extra time or potentially come off as an annoyance, but what we’re finding is that our guests are feeling more safe and secure on our ships than on others, and they’re extremely appreciative of that.
When it comes to inclusivity, Celebrity has been focused on this for a long time, and that even shows in our crew. In fact, over 30% of the officers on the bridge of our ships are female…whereas the industry average is less than 5%.
I think that’s important because it shows that Celebrity isn’t just now focused on diversity. It’s always been part of our corporate culture, we just needed a new campaign to really show that to the world. In fact, none of the footage used in the ad was new. That was all footage we had already taken and used in one form or another. I and my team went through our footage and instantly knew that Celebrity already had a story to tell, we just needed to piece it together.
Can LGBTQ guests onboard find any queer-themed events throughout their stay?
Lisa: You know, I actually made a decision a while ago when we were looking into having events like that, but I didn’t know if I felt comfortable doing it. To me, telling LGBTQ people that, say, for example, “Saturday night is LGBTQ night” almost felt like I’d be segregating them to only feel comfortable in our bars on Saturday night. Instead, I wanted all of our ships to be welcoming and inclusive. I want a gay couple to feel safe and welcomed every single night of the week, in every space, on every ship. And fortunately, thanks to the type of passengers we attract, I think they do.
However, if guests want to set up their own events, we never have a problem with that. For example, we regularly have Jewish passengers who arrange a Shabbat on Friday evenings. I think it’s wonderful and we’re always happy to accommodate things like that.
Michael: We also do a yearly Pride Party cruise. We haven’t announced next year’s date yet, but we always do a yearly Pride cruise for LGBTQ people, their allies, and anyone else who just wants to come along for the party. It takes place every June and we normally find some celebrities or prominent figures to join in and cruise with us. It’s tons of fun and is certainly a cruise experience like no other!
To learn more about Celebrity Cruises, visit their website.