Cruise lines get chatty
On a recent Monday in June, Carnival Cruise Lines’ “Cruise Talk”
bulletin board had 11 posts about dining aboard the Carnival Glory, all debating
the question whether to eat early or late. Meanwhile, over on the Cruise West
“Journey Blog,” readers were gushing over photos taken during a recent
Alaska cruise aboard the Spirit of Endeavour. Over on the SeaDream Yacht Club
blog, cruise officials were had posted a provocative question: “How big is big
These company bulletin boards aren’t just places where readers can share
personal memories. They’re places where potential passengers can get valuable
information to help them decide on a ship or an itinerary. Will they change the
way cruisers get their cruise information?
Valuable communications tool
Three cruise lines have become more “online-accessible” to their
customers recently. Taking its cue from popular online cruise communities like
Cruise Critic, which has dozens of bulletin boards, Carnival Cruise Lines has
a separate customer Web site that offers bulletin boards dedicated to each
Carnival ship as well as to the line’s many destinations. Meanwhile, two
small-ship operators, Cruise
West and SeaDream Yacht Club,
have created blog spaces that allow customers to post their shipboard
experiences or respond to queries and comments from a cruise line administrator.
So far, each cruise line’s little corner of the Web has proven to be quite
popular with users.
“The message boards have been the most-used sections of the Web site,”
says Carnival spokesman Vance Gullicksen. What’s in it for Carnival?
Word-of-mouth marketing. Carnival hopes all that happy chat on the boards will
result in new bookings that are both enthusiastic and well-informed.
At Cruise West, it’s more about making personal connections between the
company and its passengers. “Through the blog, we are able to share real-time
experiences with our future guests and those who are contemplating a trip,”
says Leigh Strinsky, Cruise West’s manager of online initiatives. “It’s
really a way for us to share our style with the public in a very noncommercial,
Larry Pimentel, president and chief executive officer of SeaDream Yacht Club,
says, “Our blog features items of interest about the company along with news
and commentary about travel and tourism and just about anything else that comes
Customers get heard
The new online communities are teaching the cruise lines a lot about their
“The message boards help us see what consumers really value as part of
their vacation experience,” says Gullicksen, the Carnival spokesman.
Preferences and complaints about particular Carnival products quickly become
evident, and this helps with quality control. “When we find a consistent
thread on one of the boards relating to a particular aspect of our product, we
forward it to the appropriate department for review,” he says.
Strinsky sees an additional benefit. In the past, she says, Cruise West would
get amazing real-time stories from passengers or crew about weddings, wildlife
sightings or other shipboard experiences, but the cruise line couldn’t share
them with readers until they were printed in brochures — some six to 12 months
later. “Now, with the blog, we can share these stories quickly with
everyone,” she says.
SeaDream hopes to use its recently launched online space to track customer
thinking. “The blog openly seeks opinions and gives us an opportunity to find
out what various segments of the public think we are doing right and, on
occasion, what the respondent thinks we are doing wrong,” Pimental says.
“Both are important and can help us to provide a better product.”
What about the independents?
Will the company boards and blogs spell the end of independent online cruise
Alan Wilson, editor of Cruise News
Daily, sees company bulletin boards as a potential threat to large cruise
forums like Cruise Critic and Cruise
Addicts. Cruise-line Web sites already have high traffic and visibility and
they provide users with accurate information, Wilson points out. With that draw
already in place, there is incentive for passengers to visit the new company
boards – and maybe use them exclusively. The clincher, Wilson suggests, would
be online participation by a cruise-line staffer who can provide authoritative
answers to consumers’ questions (the independent boards don’t do this).
Another key ingredient for success: unedited passenger comment, good and bad.
“Once cruise lines do those things, their bulletin boards will decimate the
traffic regarding their product on the generic boards,” Wilson says.
“If you believe in your product, as we do, the consumer’s voice can serve
as a virtual sales tool to a consumer segment which demands unbiased product
information,” Gullicksen says. ”The Internet has proven to be the perfect
medium for this.”
Carnival’s success in its online endeavor can only lead to speculation that
other cruise lines will follow.
July 17, 2006