What’s Wrong with Cunard? My tips on what they need to do to survive past their 175 year anniversary in 2015
Seated on either side of us on our Caribbean Christmas cruise on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2, were two charming couples. Mike and Barbara (a couple in their late 60s and early 70) representing the present, and Simon and Melissa (a newly-wed couple in their late 30s and early 40s with a two-year old son) representing the future. And here lies the problem and challenge that Cunard are facing.
Throughout the cruise we came across many people like Simon and Melissa. Younger couples and families just getting into cruising and who had been attracted to the romance, heritage and up-market perception of Cunard. And during the trip becoming increasingly disappointed by the dated experience, facilities and entertainment that serves the past and present so well – but does not meet the needs of the future cruiser. The probability of couples and families like them returning is small.
Cunard face a real problem and an increasingly urgent need to contemporise and evolve their on-board offer if they want to be relevant and appealing to the new and emerging generation of travellers. Even the core audience has changed beyond the confines of the current product. It now looks increasingly dated as it is failing to run with the change in digital, connectivity and tastes for diversity of dining and in entertainment.
I am a very loyal Cunard traveller, and have close to 100 nights cruising with them, with extended voyages done and more booked. There are aspects of what they do that I adore like the suites and restaurant, but I wish desperately that they would rise to the needs of today’s traveller and adapt.
Specifically I think they need to address the following:
The internet is one of the poorest I have experienced on any of the luxury and ultra-luxury lines. It is expensive and the reliability and service poor. There is no option to have an unlimited package to stay connected. Even the value lines within the extended Carnival family have better and more attractive packages and connectivity. It is a challenge to do decent surfing, download things like podcasts, digital subscription to newspapers, watch YouTube videos, post images or video clips to social media or Skype and FaceTime. All of which modern travellers, of all ages, want to be able to do. If guests were posting more about their experience it would ultimately benefit Cunard as social media is becoming very influential in driving travel choices.
Staying connected is important to modern travellers as they are used to constantly engaging for pleasure and also keeping attached to work. This has to be improved to be relevant to these future guests.
The TV system is outdated and has no interactivity. You cannot book excursions, view and order photographs taken of you, check your account balance, watch films and shows on demand or make dining reservations or order room service. This makes it cumbersome and inefficient for both guests and customer-facing crew who should be liberated to spend more quality time advising and building service with guests than processing simple requests like copies of statements. Modern consumers are used to doing things interactively, and at a time that they want, rather than having to go and and perform tasks like these in person.
Photographs are still printed out and displayed. This is costly and a poor environmental process. No doubt also leading to the high cost of buying them. You should be able to view and order them off your in-room TV or via iPads in the photographic centre. You should also be able to receive them as digital files to post immediately onto social media.
People are more adventurous and want choice. This has improved with the addition of themed dining evenings such as Chinese and Indian. But these are in the rather uninspiring Kings Court buffet restaurant which places table cloths on the tables to make it a restaurant – rather than the more refined and designed alternatives on other cruise lines. Modern travellers need more diversity of speciality dining and providing places like a sushi bar, tapas and other food trends is needed. This is where the lines attracting younger and more modern travellers excel. Perhaps Cunard could start using some of the space in places like the Winter Garden, an uninspiring and under used venue.
The gym on Queen Mary 2 is too small, dated and does not provide a modern workout venue. The classes are held in a meeting room down in the lower decks of the ship. On Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth the facilities are slightly better, but still under developed and under sized. On modern lines attracting the new wave of younger and more active young-at-heart traveller have large and modern facilities with a good range of classes in accessible studios. This is needed.
This is one of the weakest areas in the overall Cunard experience. The production shows are uninspired, dated and hail from a previous era. The stodgy song and dance shows are past their sell-by date. The guest artists are largely names and individuals in the sunset of their careers with the repertoire and routines to match. The shows all look backwards. There needs to be a total rethink and a need to bring younger and more dynamic acts, focused on emerging talent perhaps performing highlights from shows on the West End and Broadway today and following trends.
The Enrichment talks are retreads of the same faces and, while they know how to deliver a talk, many admit to have 10, 20 and 30 years history of talking on the ships. Modern and relevant talks that are important to the contemporary traveller are needed.
The digital workshops are all about the basics of using iPhones and iPads. This is crazy. Even the older generation have embraced these tools – and there should be workshops on new skills and building new talents to challenge and stretch an increasingly connected and social media active generation.
Differentiation by Grade
Cunard is proud of offering a three tier option to travellers with Britannia, Princess and Queens Grill. However, if they want to attract the range of travellers that this system needs, they have to review differentiation across them. At present the key difference is the size and location of staterooms and the restaurant. However, even the value lines like MSC Cruises and Norwegian have introduced a premium suites option and built in greater differentiation by creating ship-within-ship areas where the facilities are grouped and the service therefore is better targeted and delivered. They have proper decks for the premium suites with stand alone pool, bars and hot tubs. Cunard have them scattered about the ship and no dedicated pool. Some lines even try and offer tours for the premium suites to provide a different experience.
The cost is much greater with the Grills and while clearly that is due to the size of the suites and restaurants, both of which are excellent, they need to create clearer differentiation and features for each to make them more unique products.
I am a Cunard fan and regular traveller, but feel they need to better address me as a contemporary traveller – and make sure they are relevant to the up and coming audience. They are not there and have a way to go. The changes required are becoming more important as each month goes by if they want to keep sailing proudly past their 175 anniversary and into the future secure. I hope they do as I love the brand…