Recently we had the pleasure of talking to Christine Duffy, the President of Carnival Cruise Line. Here's what she had to say about her role and the future of Carnival:
Your position sounds like a dream job to many. What’s the most enjoyable aspect of your job?
It’s been an amazing 18 months so far as president of the world’s most popular cruise line. Getting out and interacting with our exceptional and passionate team members both aboard our 25 ships and shore side, as well as spending time with our guests and travel agent partners, is extremely enjoyable. It’s truly wonderful to work in a business where you are making people’s vacation dreams come true.
What’s the biggest way cruising has changed since you started in the industry? Is there anything you miss about the “olden days” of cruising?
Even though I might appear to be relatively new to the cruise industry, having joined CLIA as President and CEO in 2011 prior to my current role with Carnival, I have been very familiar with the industry for some time -- not only through my days as a travel agent and meeting planner but I also spent my honeymoon on a cruise! There have been so many extraordinary changes in the cruise industry – the size of the ships, the breadth of facilities and amenities on board, the proliferation of different accommodation types, particularly with private balconies, advances in technology both for the guests and from an operations perspective.
Things sure have chagned since Carnival launched its first ship, the Mardi Gras. - Photo by Carnival
However, having said that, the core tenets our company was founded upon in 1972 remain true to this day. Ted Arison’s vision was to make cruising fun, unpretentious and accessible to all. And 44 years later it’s great to see that his vision is not only alive but thriving. Taking a cruise vacation has never been more convenient, affordable and attractive.
How do you feel about the increasing popularity of user-generated review websites like Cruiseline.com and Cruise Critic? How do they affect the customer experience? Do they impact how you do business?
User-generated review sites as well as social media, blogs, etc. are a great way for people to connect and share information and experiences. It’s no longer about what we are telling our customers, it’s about what our customers are telling each other and telling us as well. I think these types of sites are valuable to us as an organization. It helps us to stay attuned to and connected with what our guests need and want in a cruise vacation and enables us to potentially identify consumer trends. I think they’re especially helpful for first-time cruisers or people who are on the fence about taking a cruise. Being able to see other people’s pictures, hearing their stories and learning about their experiences helps to demystify the cruise experience and helps to dispel some of the myths that may exist about what a cruise vacation is and isn’t.
Do you think the average ship size will continue to grow, or are we going to see the return of smaller, more intimate ships?
I think the industry will continue to have a variety of ships of different sizes offering itineraries that cater to different interests. Having just launched our newest and largest ship Carnival Vista in May, there has been a trend at Carnival and within the contemporary cruise industry to build larger ships. Bigger ships provide the canvas for a broader range of onboard experiences. We have the space on Carnival Vista to offer features such as the first IMAX Theatre at sea, an onboard brewery and more dining outlets.
An artists' rendering 50 years of progress from the Mardi Gras (1961) to the Carnival Magic (2011). - Photo by Carnival
That being said, there is still a market for smaller ships. Our Fantasy class ships, as an example, provide a more intimate guest experience. I’ve heard feedback from many of our guests who prefer these ships for that reason. The smaller ships in our fleet also provide different itinerary options that are perfect for those looking for a shorter-duration cruise.
A surprising number of our Carnival Cruise Line reviews over the last couple of years mention the little things that have gone away... chocolates on the pillow at night, tablecloths in the main dining room, stateroom service is no longer twice a day automatically. While separately they may seem like small cuts, are you at all concerned that combined, they amount to a substantial reduction on the Carnival cruise experience?
We are constantly evaluating what we offer to determine if various aspects of the vacation experience are valued by our guests versus other types of experiences we can invest those dollars in. Using the chocolates as an example, we found that a large number of our guests did not value them and were not eating them so we decided to do away with this particular service in order to reinvest in other areas. Elimination of table cloths on some of the ships was part of a modernization of the main dining room experience. We invested more money in new menu offerings and modernized the ambience to have more of an American bistro feel. It’s important to understand that what might seem a ‘take away’ is usually a re-investment in something else.
What element of your Funship 2.0 makeovers has turned out to be the most successful? Why do you think it resonated so well?
Guy's Burgers was added to Carnival ships as part of the Funship 2.0 upgrades. - Photo by Carnival
If I had to choose one, I would say it’s been our partnership with Guy Fieri and Guy’s Burger Joint – not to mention the brand new Guy's Pig & Anchor Bar-B-Que Smokehouse that debuted on the Carnival Magic earlier this spring. Guy’s personality is infectious and positive and his personal brand aligns so closely with the Carnival brand. He’s fun and enthusiastic and has been a great partner to us and he makes one heck of a burger!
What new technologies are you most excited about?
We presently offer a shipboard app on four ships which will eventually be fleetwide. It allows guests to track all the exciting happenings on board from dining to music and entertainment and it also includes the option of purchasing an innovative chat feature for a nominal charge. We are also offering enhanced, higher speed internet fleetwide and Carnival Vista is the first ship in our fleet to go 100 percent digital in terms of photography.
Carnival's HUB app helps users get the most out of their cruise. - Photo by Carnival
On the operational front, advanced technology is allowing us to build more efficient ships that save energy and fuel and help us lessen our environmental footprint. Every new ship that is constructed is better than the one prior in terms of operational technologies and this will continue.
What major changes do you see coming to Carnival and the cruise industry in the years ahead?
Customized and tailored experiences for different demographics. For example, tailored youth programming for different age groups, family friendly programming and facilities, adults-only areas and experiences, tailored accommodations such as Family Harbor and Havana Cabanas aboard Carnival Vista. We will also continue to see growth in flexible and widely varied dining choices. Entertainment on ships continues to change and become more diversified and spectacular. Shore excursion experiences are changing as well. People are looking for interesting shore-ex choices and cruise lines are responding with some truly unique and exciting experiences that didn’t exist even five years ago.
What is the one thing you want everyone to know about your brand?
There is a truly unique and special vibe aboard Carnival ships. I like to think of us as America’s cruise line. Our guests tend to be warm and friendly and like to enjoy themselves. That enjoyment can come in many different forms. For kids it may be the waterparks, ropes courses and other outdoor activities, or perhaps Seuss at Sea or our new Skyride and IMAX Theatre on Carnival Vista. For adults it may be the Serenity adults-only deck, Cloud 9 Spa, specialty dining like Bonsai Sushi or the Fahrenheit 555 steakhouse or late night comedy. The one commonality among all of our guests though is a psychographic rather than a demographic. They are a ‘come as you are,’ be yourself and enjoy life crowd. This is what makes Carnival truly different from any other cruise line.