Why success and diversity go hand in hand for Lisa Lutoff-Perlo

The outgoing Celebrity Cruises president and CEO gives an insight into its focus on improving diversity

Why success and diversity go hand in hand for Lisa Lutoff-Perlo
Lutoff-Perlo has overseen a significant increase in the number of women working in the bridges and engine rooms of Celebrity Cruises’ ships

By Susan Parker |

The history of diversity onboard Celebrity Cruises’ ships is something outgoing president and CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo loves about the brand she has overseen since 2016.  

However, there is one area where the wider cruise industry needs to become stronger and that is gender diversity. While women can now be found in many top roles shoreside, such as in security and engineering, there is room for improvement onboard the ships, mostly on the marine side but also in some leadership roles in hotel operations. 

Having joined Celebrity on the operational side, Lutoff-Perlo is delighted that one-third of the bridge teams onboard the brand’s ships are now women. In addition, there has been a significant increase in the number of women in the engine room – from one to 15 – in the past 18 months. 

“The moral of the story is that the amazing men I have worked with over the past nine years have helped me improve our gender balance,” says Lutoff-Perlo. “It requires intention and teamwork, and they have worked side by side with me to achieve the progress we’ve made.” 

Captain Kate McCue, who is probably Celebrity’s most famous woman, has also done much to heighten awareness of the onboard roles. “She has a significant social media following and is one of our best recruiters,” says Lutoff-Perlo. “There are a lot of women in the maritime industry at large who are coming to Celebrity because of Captain Kate being such a great storyteller, role model and advocate for our brand.”  

In addition, the human resources and shoreside marine team work very closely with all the maritime academies across the world to hire young women (as well as men). The women are particularly interested in the cruise industry upon graduation. “That’s how we’re building levels on the bridge,” explains Lutoff-Perlo. “They’re working their way up and the brand is growing so there are a lot of opportunities for everyone.”  

Although Celebrity had no set goal in terms of a percentage of women on the bridge, it will continue striving to employ women into marine roles. However, Lutoff-Perlo is keen to point out that: “The reality is that there are many, many more men interested in these careers than women. I’m extremely proud that we are at one-third, and we’ll continue to find great women who want to be part of the great journey Celebrity is on.” 

Lutoff-Perlo believes that more balance and more diversity contribute to Celebrity’s success. “It produces better outcomes, whether business or engagement. I look at both guest and crew satisfaction scores and they’re both very high. Our financial performance is better. That takes everybody contributing.  

“I can’t assign this success to one particular thing, but diversity is part of the equation that makes our brand a better place to work, and the bridges are functioning at the highest level they ever have. It’s because we’re hiring great people regardless of gender, colour, ethnicity, sexual orientation or cultural differences, although at the end of the day, I do absolutely believe that balancing gender is part of that success.” 

Although post-pandemic recovery is taking longer than Celebrity had originally hoped in 2022 for various reasons, things are looking up for 2023. “People are ready, they have put a lot of this behind them,” says Lutoff-Perlo. “Consumer confidence is getting back to normal. I’m cautiously optimistic that we’ll start getting back to our glory days.” 

Whilst the higher inventory is still selling out and guests are spending more money onboard than pre-pandemic, Lutoff-Perlo says this is now beginning to level off. However, the all-inclusive pricing strategy that was introduced in late 2020 remains very popular. “A much larger percentage of guests are buying it than we anticipated when we came up with the idea – 70 per cent versus 50 per cent.” 

This year, Celebrity hopes to share announcements about the fifth Edge Series vessel. “This ship presents an incredible opportunity to impact a lot of our sustainability efforts, not only as a brand but as a company [Royal Caribbean Group],” says Lutoff-Perlo. “It will help to progress our thinking on carbon neutral and net zero by 2050. We continue to think about different ways our company, brand and ships take part in preserving the oceans we operate in.” 

Like the brand’s other ships, the new Edge-class vessel will be positioned as a relaxed luxury resort at sea. According to Celebrity’s recent consumer research, this branding has been very well received and is now at the centre of its marketing strategy.  

“We wanted to validate our brand positioning by identifying what guests like about and want from Celebrity, and also what consumers in our targeted demographic want from a vacation,” says Lutoff-Perlo. “The three key things they want are to: go somewhere and experience cultures they’ve not visited before; eat great food from all over the world; and take care of themselves and their well-being.  

“While we didn’t learn anything new, it reinforced that we’re going in the right direction and set us on an even, clear path for the future. After the last couple of years, it was extremely validating to find the brand perfectly positioned as we had wanted it to be. We’ll continue to focus on these desires and to communicate that to the consumer.” 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2023 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe to Cruise & Ferry Review for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox or your door. 

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