Friday, 20 June 2014

Interview: Jo Rzymowska on her first six months at Celebrity Cruises

Interview: Jo Rzymowska on her first six months at Celebrity Cruises

      Celebrity Cruises UK&Ireland managing director Jo Rzymowska outside the O2 Arena
Jo Rzymowska must be one of the cruise industry’s most recognised figures in the trade. From beginning her career at International Leisure Group in 1982, she has spent the past 30 years climbing the travel ladder, working in sales-related roles for a variety of well-known names - Thomas Cook, Disney and Universal Studios to name a few - strengthening and developing her relationship with agents.
It is perhaps no surprise then that six months into her new role as the UK head of Celebrity Cruises, Rzymowska is just as passionate about the trade, and keen to explain why - now more than ever - agents remain so integral to Celebrity and the cruise industry at large.
“We want to do as much as we can with our partners. We want them to experience the brand and understand what Celebrity is about,” she says.
This renewed focus on the trade has of course been aided by RCL Cruises Ltd’s decision to market three of its lines, Royal Caribbean International, Azamara and Celebrity, separately - a move that came into force in January.
”We’ve gone from a small team of five people to 100, who wake up every morning and think ‘Celebrity’ all day”
“The key benefit now is that it has allowed us to go narrower and deeper,” Rzymowska explains. “We’ve gone from a small team of five people to 100, who wake up every morning and think ‘Celebrity’ all day, and we have a dedicated sales team of 20 who are out there on the road.”
It is, Rzymowska adds, all part of a strategy to grow the Celebrity brand in the UK, which, she concedes, still remains “relatively unknown in Britain”.
One way of achieving this is by dividing the sales team up to focus on three distinct areas: “We have one dedicated team working with the consortia, one with Thomas Cook and Tui, and one for the cruise specialists. The needs for these three audiences are different, but they are all very important groups.”
In particular, Rzymowska believes it is pivotal that agents - and customers - fully understand what Celebrity has to offer, and the elements that keep it unique from other lines. Which explains why Celebrity has been cropping up in a number of surprising locations recently - and why head of sales Michael English was to be found recently food shopping with agents in London’s famous Borough Market.
“We don’t want to be a mass-market brand. We’ve created a dedicated team specifically focused on London and the south-east - the most affluent area in the UK - because we want to be targeting the right customer to travel with us, and we’re doing a lot of work with our key travel partners to build on this.”

Spreading the word

This work includes huge advertising campaigns in commuter spaces such as Waterloo station, and sponsoring “experiential events”, such as the recent Polo in the Park, with the line’s travel partners invited as well.
“We’re also sponsoring Kew the Music 2014 and are the official cruise partner for the O2, which allows us to have competitions for agents to come and see acts such as Michael Buble,” Rzymowska adds. “It’s about bringing the brand to the consumer, and telling them what we’re about.”
”If people want to book with us direct, of course we’ll take those bookings, but more than 80% of our business comes through the trade”
It’s also about bringing the brand to the agents: “Michael [English] took agents to Borough Market so they could taste food which had a relevance to Celebrity’s restaurants. From the 12 agents who attended the session, within a week eight had made a booking with us.”
So is Rzymowska against growing the line’s direct business then?
“It’s about having a choice,” she says. “People know I genuinely believe the trade is a great distribution channel, but we will be wherever the consumer wants us to be.
“If people want to book with us direct, of course we’ll take those bookings, but more than 80% of our business comes through the trade. This balance may change,” she concedes, “but I think the trade will always be the largest distribution channel. Especially if you’re talking about purchases that people are doing for the first time - they want that independent advice.”
Celebrity Cruises UK boss Jo Rzymowska goes 'back to the floor' at a Kuoni branch in London
Jo Rzymowska goes ‘back to the floor’ at a Kuoni branch in John Lewis, London

Beat the competition

Like a number of other lines, it seems Celebrity is also conscious of the growing number of companies looking to capitalise on the lucrative world of shore excursions, with several firms, including Attraction World, now offering commission to agents to sell separate excursions to those offered by the cruise lines.
Rzymowska admits it is an area that the Celebrity team is assessing: “We’re constantly looking at how we work with travel agents… there are opportunities we can look at,” she concedes before adding: “We have no immediate plans but we are continually evaluating.”
With the trade remaining so pivotal to sales, and so much new capacity flooding on to the market next year, such as the introduction of Royal Caribbean’s 4,180-passenger Quantum of the Seas and P&O’s 3,600-passenger Britannia, I question whether Ryzmowska is concerned the discounting wars of 2011 could again raise their ugly head.
“If we felt that the brand was being underrepresented or damaged by the way in which people were representing it, we would have that conversation,” she admits.
“But we generally get great support from our partners, and we have regular meetings with them about how we market the brand.”

Price hike plans

In fact, far from worrying about discounting, Rzymowska is more focused on how the line can start raising prices. “We want to work together to look at increasing the rate that people pay,” she says.
“It’s in both of our interests to sell the holidays at a price based on what the brand offers. We also want to look at upping the price so that it is relative to just how much we invest into the product.”
This is perhaps understandable - these “investments” are numerous, and include improvements to the line’s “suite class”, introducing dedicated dining rooms and lounges for guests in this class from April 2015 as well as providing individual butlers.
There is also a new “wellness” programme, which was launched in April this year, as part of a new partnership with the US award-winning spa Canyon Ranch, with a specific restaurant offering healthy platters “which are still tasty”, Rzymowska assures.
The line also has a target audience in mind for its cruises - affluent couples and families, and the LGBT market, with Celebrity often being awarded in the US for its gay-friendly approach. “It’s about attitude rather than age,” Rzymowska explains.
“We have got plans to grow in the UK but it’s more about making sure we get the right guest onboard the right ship and that we work with our travel partners to achieve this.”
Looks like agents can expect many more trips to Borough Market and Michael Buble concerts yet.