Carnival Stays the Course

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In 2010, as consumers were still reeling from the economic recession, travel companies across the board rolled out discounts and special offers in an attempt to woo budget-conscious clients. That makes Carnival Cruise Lines’ Readers’ Choice Awards win for Best Cruise Line—Value (its 11th straight win in that category) an especially sweet victory, says Joni Rein, v.p. of worldwide sales. “We’re just thrilled and delighted,” she says. “We are really devoted to our brand, and our brand’s message is ‘fun, memorable and a great value.’”

Of course, the line’s 11 years of travel agent recognition for its value is no accident. It’s the result of a long history of marketing to a very specific type of client. “Our guest is social, spirited, casual, spontaneous,” Rein explains, “so the fun on the ship is quite contagious, so the overall guest experience is extraordinary. And we like our brand, and our brand position—we are the value brand position. And so staying true to our roots really helps us with that consistent message. We target middle-income Americans, and I think that’s our sweet spot.”

In fact, Carnival’s commitment to providing great value to its customers starts before the guest sets foot on board. Rein calls it, “Our home port strategy. We have a port within a 5-hour drive of 50 percent of Americans. When you look at the whole experience of air travel—getting to the airport early, let alone the cost—with a 5-hour drive, your experience starts when you leave your house and you’re having fun.” That home port strategy, in combination with the wide range of attractions and amenities on board that range from spa services to an extensive kids’ program, gives guests the best bang for their buck, she continues. “We look at the product continually. We look at the specific features and benefits on board the ship that are important to the guests, and we make sure we are emphasizing those.”

Carnival’s sales strategy also makes its product highly valuable to agents. “We have an early saver program; I call it ‘one and done,’” Rein explains. “It’s a nonrefundable deposit, it’s the lowest price in the marketplace and it’s guaranteed. So it has a stick rate of about 95 percent, which means when our travel partners close the sale, they can move on to the next one. It’s been very beneficial to our travel partners. And consumers like the confidence that they are buying at the guaranteed lowest price.”

According to Rein, Carnival’s value-focused strategy is paying off. In 2009, the line had more first-time cruise customers than ever before, and in 2011, Carnival will offer even more options to cruisers of all stripes. The line plans to re-introduce European itineraries, offering 7- to 12-day Mediterranean cruises from May to October aboard the Carnival Magic—a new ship with plenty of values aboard. The RedFrog Pub, an island-themed “watering hole,” will offer its own private-label draught beer, while a new Italian restaurant, Cucina del Capitano, will also make its debut. Plus, the Magic will feature the first ropes course in cruising in its expansive outdoor sports complex, which also includes a weight-lifting area and the Water Works aqua park. “We’re going to stay the course,” Rein says, “and I hope we’re going to talk about the 12th year we’ve won.”