Even the largest cruise line in the world can make mistakes, despite months of research, physical ship changes and a self-proclaimed ‘Aussification’.
Speaking at the Travel DAZE conference in Sydney, Carnival Cruise Lines Australia GM and Vice President Jennifer Vandekreeke admitted the Carnival team thought they’d nailed it when the company had its maiden voyage in Australia, but as it turned out there were a few lessons to learn, as was the theme of the Travel DAZE conference.
“My boss told me to go down to Australia and try start a cruise line. We were typical Americans creating an ‘Aussified’ experience,” she said.
Vandekreeke called the ship’s complete overhaul the “Aussification” of Carnival Cruises, meaning a fresh BBQ, a new green slide and an understanding of Australian coffee culture.
“We knew there was no better country on the planet for Carnival Cruises than Australia, but we didn’t want to pull a Starbucks,” Vandekreeke said.
After Carnival Spirit’s eight-day maiden voyage of Australia, the ship arrived back in Sydney and Vandekreeke was waiting at the dock with open arms.
She ran up to the ship’s hotelier and both agreed the ship’s Net Promotor Score (NPS) – which measures guest satisfaction – would be off the charts.
Unfortunately, they were wrong.
“We thought we killed it and our NPS would be off the charts, as it turned out our NPS came back as the lowest amoungst every ship,” Vandekreeke said.
“We were devastated, we questioned everything. The one thing we knew was Australia and Carnival Cruises were right for each other, but that was it.”
Vandekreeke and her team started again. Looking at guest responses to the cruise, they realized one thing; Australians don’t complain.
There were three massive learnings; Australians love to participate in on-board activities, they rarely spend hours sitting outside on the deck and Aussie children tag along with parents wherever they go.
“Aussies take kids to activities, our US customers don’t. Also, for some reason Aussie kids think it’s perfectly normal to hang out in a bar after 10pm,” she said.
“We offloaded 500 beach sun loungers because Aussies weren’t using them because they were too busy participating in the activities.”
The results of this second-wave of Aussification were staggering.
“After six months Carnival Spirit was at the average for the fleet.
“In 2016 she was number one across all 20 ships and Carnival Legend was number three. Our 2015 failures lead to arguably the greatest success in 2016,” Vandekreeke said.
Vandekreeke said success comes from understanding and accepting a business for what it is, and in the case of Carnival, it’s “family friendly free-spirited fun; not luxurious, hip and cool”.
“I’ve had people who say we need more quiet spots around deck,. My response is ‘no we don’t’. We’re not gonna have bridge tournaments, you’re on the wrong ship,” Vandekreeke said.
“The job of my sales team is to let guest know were loud and fun and vibrant, so when our guests come on board they know what to expect, and then my on-board team takes it up a notch to surprise them.”
“Shakespeare once wrote ‘Expectation is the root of all heartache’ and it’s true.”
For Vandekreeke, it’s about being fun and reliable, but always adding in a tiny bit of surprise to keep your guests on their toes.