How Will Brands Affect Cruising? – Other News: Shipboard Spas: If It’s On A Ship, It Must Be A Steiners – Three Carnival Lines Restrict Smoking

by Kevin Griffin

Recently, one European cruise line executive was quoted as saying that, compared to European cruising, North American-based cruise lines are becoming “all about brands.” Last week, indeed, Royal Caribbean International surveyed a cross-section of its recent past passengers on the subject of the brands with which it is associated. We also take a further look at a specific brand that supplies spas on board cruise ships.


How Will Brands Affect Cruising?

A European cruise line executive was recently quoted as saying that while European cruise operators are more interested in the actual cruise experience, North American-based cruise lines are becoming “all about brands.” Whether he meant cruise line brands or the brands with which their ships are associated was not totally clear, but he probably meant both.

With the recent introduction of Dreamworks Animation to Royal Caribbean Interbnational and Nickelodeon to Norwegian Cruise Line, this seems to be quite true, at least with the big brands. Last week, just to confirm this, Royal Caribbean International surveyed a number of its past and recent cruisers on three or four dozen brands they are already associated with or thinking about taking on board.

Included in this survey were brands such as Coca Cola, Johnny Rockets, Dreamworks, Seattle’s Best Coffee, Bliss, Elemis, Chicagoand Hairspray, just to name a few. Meanwhile, Disney Cruise Line has is its own in-house brand.

The only major line that now uses its own on-board branding seems to be Carnival Cruise Lines – and this in itself is significant. As Royal Caribbean and NCL add more and more brands and diversions to their ships, Carnival is positively beginning to look a bit more like a more traditional cruise line. It is even promising to offer more space per passenger in its new ships than RCI and NCL, who are retreating back to less space in their own new ships (see last week’s Cruise Examiner, “Back to the 30’s”).

But let’s step back just a moment and look at the cruise line brands themselves. The mission statement at the ten-brand cruise group Carnival Corp & PLC mentions brands: “to deliver exceptional vacation experiences through the world’s best-known cruise brands that cater to a variety of different lifestyles and budgets, all at an outstanding value unrivalled on land or at sea.”

Today, the Carnival Group operates ten brands – Aida, Carnival, Costa, Cunard, Holland America, Iberocruceros, P&O Cruises, P&O Australia, Princess and Seabourn – and controls more than half the world’s total cruise capacity. More than 9 million a year cruise with these brands.

Some cruise groups are more confusing than Carnival though. For example, at first glance, many might think that Royal Caribbean International is the holding company and Royal Caribbean Cruises the brand, but in fact it is the opposite. Now, however, even Royal Caribbean has followed the Carnival precedent, and numbers five brands of its own – Azamara, Celebrity, Croisières de France, Pullmantur and Royal Caribbean,

Sometimes, as well, subtle changes have to be made. Recently, for example, Seabourn took delivery of three new 35,273-ton ships that each measure more than that most famous of post-war luxury cruise ships, the 34,183-ton Caronia, which was also known as the “green goddess.”

Yachts of Seabourn, as the line was called, had to decide that it was no longer operating just yachts and thus changed its name to simply Seabourn, a brand that anyway speaks for itself. About a year before that, Azamara Cruises had become Azamara Club Cruises to bring it a bit more upmarket and make it seem more exclusive.

Profits and margins are all about brands, market positions and relationships. When going beyond the individual cruise line brands, this is certainly true as well – if you find some brands on one cruise line, for example, one is increasingly less likely to be able to them on others. Brand relations such as Dreamworks with Royal Caribbean and Nickelodeon with NCL have become exclusive, as of course is Disney to Disney Cruise Line. In other cases, brands, such as Steiner, pay the cruise line for exclusivity on board, but are able to buy that exclusivity with more than just one cruise line.

One thing is certain, however, and that is that the presence of brands and the payments they make to the cruise lines may well allow the lines to keep cruise fares affordable to the general public. And, what’s more, those same cruise line guests will be quite willing to spend money on those brands while on board.

There is also a form of captivity that exists with a brand that is exclusive to a particular cruise line. For example, customers who book a cruise with a certain line based on its brands are more likely to be committed, profitable and reasonably safe from competition from the point of view of the cruise line.

That, along with private lounges for repeat clients (such as the Diamond Club lounges on Royal Caribbean, for example) that give them privileges over the average cruiser, give those guests the type of exclusivity that will attract them back many times. One can also probably watch for more overlaps between brands and affinity programs as time goes on.

In the end, however, while the other lines jump hoops to try to work with outside brands, the Carnival Group seems quite happy to rely on its own cruise line brands. In the case of their children’s entertainment programs, however, Royal Caribbean’s Shrek and NCL’s Spongebob Squarepants may well be pushing adults, and even some parents, over towards Carnival lines. And although Carnival Cruise Lines does have its own Fun Ship Freddie, that particular character is not as overpowering as the others. Time will tell.


Shipboard Spas: If It’s On A Ship, It Must Be A Steiners

On board cruise ships, there is one particular brand that is worth looking into a little bit, and that brand is Steiners Leisure, as it is know today. Founded in London in 1901 by Henry Steiner, the single salon prospered when his son joined the business in 1926 and was granted a Royal Warrant by Queen Mary in 1937. Many more royal clients followed and in 1956 Steiner won its first cruise ship contract to operate the salon on board Royal Mail Lines’ Andes as well as ships of the Cunard Line.

In addition to massages, facials, manicures, pedicures and sensual body treatments, Steiner offers beauty salon services and products for hair and skin. Other brands, such as the spa product and skin care brand Elemis (an odd name as one tends to wonder whether this might be a cure for or a laxative) and Bliss, are owned by Steiners.

Elemis partners with such firms as British Airways, Four Seasons, Hilton, Intercontinental and Raffles as well as more than a dozen cruise lines including Celebrity, Crystal, Disney, Holland America, Princess, Royal Caribbean, Seabourn, Silversea and Windstar, among others.

Now Bahamas-based, Steiner Leisure, with installations on board 152 cruise ships as well as 69 land-based locations, employs more than 2,000 new employees every year to work aboard cruise ships. Steiner’s own spas are to be found on board Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Holland America, NCL, P&O, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Thomson Cruises, among others

Today, Steiner also owns the spas operated by Mandara Spa. In about 2000, Mandara Spa, a Hawaii-based company that had started in Bali and operated in resort hotels, had managed to win the spa operations on board Norwegian Cruise Line and Silversea away from Steiner. That did not last very long, however, as in 2001 Steiner retaliated by taking a 60% interest in Mandara Spa.

More recently, Bristol-based ship chandlers and shipboard retail operators Harding Brothers also got into the shipboard spa business, forming the Onboard Spa Company, and developing new business on P&O Cruises, Cunard (apart from Queen Mary 2), Windstar, Fred Olsen, Thomson, Saga, Voyages of Discovery and Swan Hellenic. But six months ago Steiner purchased the shares of the Onboard Spa Company, after which Fred Olsen decided to run its own spas. There seems to be no getting away from Steiners spas!

Beyond Steiner, Canyon Ranch has emerged as the only other operator of shipboard spas, having succeeded in gaining a presence on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, as well as the seven ships of Oceania and Regent in the Prestige Cruises group.

Spas are not inexpensive. A massage can run to anything between $110 and $150, or more, and other treatments up to $500, while the spa staff is on 10% commission to sell spa products and treatments, which again can cost into the $100’s. One spa employee recently posted in a cruising web site that commission was their only income. Even more expensive than a high end massage are the lectures given in on board spas for things like detoxification and weight loss, which are in turn teamed together with the sale of treatments and dare we say “cures.”

Typically, on board spas are marketed as pampering and service in luxurious surroundings, with a range of tempting sensory pleasures, But today, partly because of their high prices and partly because of their hard sell, they are probably the single largest source of complaints from cruise passengers, along with on board art auctions where they still exist. It is to this area that on board spas will need to pay more attention.

Spas are big business, and with cruise ship spas now reaching up to 40,000 sq ft over two decks (Carnival Splendor, Carnival Dream and Carnival Breeze) and have been expanding their product range into wellness. More recently, they have even expanded into acupuncture, Botox treatments and teeth whitening, and account for an ever increasing proportion of on board spend. These days, to make them more attractive, they are often tied to their own restaurants (Aqua class on Celebrity) and with their own private deck areas (forward decks on Azamara and Oceania) that are exclusive to spa customers, or available to others only on the purchase of a daily pass.

Although Canyon Ranch once talked about building its own ship, the only thing we have not yet seen yet is an actual spa cruise ship.

Three Carnival Lines Restrict Smoking

Anathema to spas is smoking. Last week came news that further smoking restrictions will be imposed by three Carnival lines, by Carnival Cruise Lines, on December 1, and by Holland America Line and Princess Cruises on January 15, 2012. Smoking will no longer be allowed in the cabin on any of these lines and will be generally limited to certain areas of the open deck, designated sections of the casino and casino bar and dance clubs.

For some reason, however, Carnival and Holland America passengers will still be able to smoke on their balconies while those on Princess will not. But that could have something to do with a fire that struck the balconies on Star Princess five years ago, a fire that was thought to have been started by a lit cigarette.

(Kevin Griffin is managing director of specialist cruise agency The Cruise People Ltd in London, England. For further information concerning cruises mentioned in this article readers can visit his blog)

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