Creating memories with Celebrity Cruises

Susan Bonner tells Charlie Game how the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd brand is increasing revenue by delivering a luxurious onboard experience

Creating memories with Celebrity Cruises
Guests can use an app to see a 3D animated chef make their meal in Le Grand Bistro

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2018 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

Ensuring high customer satisfaction while looking after the bottom line can be a tricky balancing act, especially when it comes to creating new opportunities to boost onboard revenue. However, it’s a balancing act that Susan Bonner knows better than most. 

Having previously served as vice president of revenue management and onboard revenue at Celebrity Cruises, Bonner moved to Sydney in July 2018 to take up the position of vice president and managing director of Australia and New Zealand for Celebrity Cruises’ parent company Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines Ltd. Now, she has overall responsibility for the teams leading the development of onboard revenue across all of Royal Caribbean’s brands in the Australia and New Zealand markets.

Bonner’s main strategy for keeping the onboard experience fresh for guests on these ships is to ensure the brands stay up to date. For Celebrity, this has included adding “transformational spa experiences” onboard. “We know one of the key goals for most of our guests on vacation is to relax, so we’re constantly revising the treatments and retail offerings we have on offer and making sure we’re staying on trend,” she explains. “For example, we’ve introduced Idea Image Ocean, and The Advanced MedSpa, offering aesthetic services such as Dysport Wrinkle Treatments and Restylane Dermal Filler Treatment.”

Celebrity Cruises has continued to set new standards for onboard luxury with its latest ship Celebrity Edge that launched in November 2018. Described as “a space that transforms from ‘chillful’ mornings, to playful afternoons, to sinful evenings”, Celebrity Edge hosts a range of exciting new developments. They include everything from the Magic Carpet – the world’s first cantilevered, floating platform that reaches heights of 13 storeys above sea level – to villas featuring private plunge pools. 

It would reasonable to think that this eye-catching architecture would take centre stage, but Bonner says the team at Celebrity Cruises has thought hard about every aspect of the guest experience to ensure it helps to drive revenue. “In addition to inclusive dining options, guests will be able to choose from the Fine Cut Steakhouse, which offers an upscale dining experience serving premium cuts cooked to guests’ preferences, and Eden Restaurant, which will feature an open-air kitchen and menus that deliver sensory and experiential offerings served by performers known as Edenists,” she says. “Meanwhile, in Le Grand Bistro, guests will see their tabletop come alive as an animated 3D chef – Le Petite Chef – appears on their plate and prepares a visual feast before their eyes, before their real meal is placed before them.” 

Partnerships with world-class brands are also an important way to improve the guest experience, while simultaneously creating more opportunities to boost onboard revenue. Over the past year, Celebrity Cruises has added jewellers Tiffany and Cartier to a long list of brand partners, which include the likes of Bulgari and Michael Kors. “We know there’s high demand for small, luxury branded items and for fine watches and timepieces, so we work with a range of brands that all share like-minded value propositions to Celebrity’s maxim of modern luxury,” says Bonner. “Then we collaborate to define what the guest experience is going to be and make it exceptional.”

For so many people, a cruise is a trip of a lifetime that creates treasured memories, so Bonner ensures this aim is at the heart of every guest experience Celebrity Cruises creates, both onboard and onshore. This is why Celebrity Cruises has introduced the ‘Discovery Collection’ shore excursions, which offer smaller group experiences for no more than 25 guests. These are based on what Bonner describes as “a three-point architecture”. 

“They must include features that are iconic to the destination, they must be experiences exclusive to us, and they must be locally inspired,” she says, adding that these excursions are tailored to the individual guests to give them the best possible experience. “Within the collection we offer different options – one for those guests who have experienced the city or the destination previously and are keen to explore something new, and another for those travellers who have never been to a particular destination and want a unique experience involving the destination’s iconic features.”

How does Celebrity Cruises bring this approach back onboard? “I think there are a few factors that come into play to create precious moments for our guests when purchasing something onboard; you need to make sure you have products they can’t find anywhere else; products that provide tangible memories of the destination; and products at a price they can’t get anywhere else,” says Bonner. 

Often, this philosophy extends beyond the products themselves, and is about filling in the details of the story. “It’s about finding out the who, the when, the what and the why, and truly engaging with a particular piece or experience,” Bonner explains. “For example, one of the biggest selling items on Celebrity Cruises’ ships is bespoke jewellery. We bring renowned artists onboard who host their own trunk shows, allowing guests to engage directly with the creator and delve into the history of the artisan and learn how and why the piece was made, so they gain a deep understanding of the product.”

There are very good reasons to think hard about which artisan products to bring onboard, particularly with jewellery. “This connection is very important considering the huge number of milestones our guests celebrate onboard – from weddings, to anniversaries, to proposals to birthdays,” says Bonner. “We need our ranges to be extra special.” 

For Bonner, balancing the need to create meaningful guest experiences while boosting onboard revenue always comes back to guests’ individual stories. “We put the guest first and we try to create a memorable experience that’s not just about buying the product, but about engaging with the item, the destination and with their memories onboard.” 

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By Guest
Tuesday, January 15, 2019