Passengers consider many factors when making their cruise choice. The most important criteria are the destinations and the quality of the accommodation. Then come other factors such as the quality and range of food available. However, the strategy of cruise operators with regard to entertainment can be one of the major factors in defining the quality of the cruise once passengers are onboard.

BIG NIGHT EVERY NIGHT

Recognising this fact, major cruise line operators put significant investment into providing the right facilities to keep passengers amused and entertained, no matter how short the cruise.

“Major cruise line operators put significant investment into providing the right facilities to keep passengers amused and entertained.”

“We want to provide our passengers with the equivalent of a night on the town,” says Anthony Radford, head of entertainment for P&O Cruises. “That is the approach we take in deciding the number of facilities and the architecture of the rooms. We want to create an environment where you can go from one facility to another, each of which is fully fitted to its purpose.”

Providing this capacity relies on having certain core elements in place. A theatre for large events is important, as are bars, nightclubs, a choice of restaurants, as well as amenities such as arcades and sports for the younger passengers.

“Each of our ships has a theatre, which is the biggest entertainment space,” says Radford. “They are designed like land theatres with ranked seating for up to 650 people. There is also a show lounge where there is music, dancing and cabaret, and usually a nightclub of some form.”

The quality and versatility of the main entertainment space – the theatre – is seen as crucially important. P&O’s belief in this is seen in the facilities provided on one of its new ships, the Arcadia, which has a theatre with a much larger capacity than its other ships. On the Arcadia, the theatre is the height of four decks, which allows producers to fly scenery and to design more complex shows with significantly more sophisticated lighting and visual effects. It can also seat up to 850 people. Sorry, there are no polls available at the moment.

SPOILT FOR CHOICE

However, one showpiece venue is not sufficient in itself. The whole range of entertainment facilities, of which pubs or bars are vital ingredients, must accompany it. Here, too, there must be variety, with some spaces offering a lively atmosphere while others are quieter and have a more laid-back environment.

“Pubs in various forms are good places to relax, drink and host entertainments such as karaoke, music or game shows,” observes Radford. “There may also be sports bar facilities that are separate from the other pubs and which have live or satellite TV sports. One popular pub we have is more like a gentleman’s club, where it is peaceful with no music at all.”

Cinemas with the latest films and casinos with tables and slot machines offer additional options for passengers who are seeking different experiences during their trip, while sports facilities – which in P&O’s case range from pools and courts to a golf simulator – cater to passengers of all ages.

LOOKING AHEAD

Whatever the blend of facilities, it is important to consider their lifespan and incorporate some flexibility into their design. “Entertainment and audiovisual facilities have seen enormous advances in technology in recent years,” notes Radford, “and we know that what we put in today will have to be replaced in five or ten years. New advances come around quickly.”

The newly built Arcadia, for instance, has a more modern design for its nightclub, incorporating new technology such as video screens. “A key thing with new builds is that they enable us to upgrade and use modern technology,” says Radford. “On other ships, we can add and refine what is there, but it is difficult to put in an entirely new set of technology. In the Oriana refit, for example, we were able to upgrade the lighting and sound equipment from the 1995 specs, but it is more difficult to redesign the room.”

DEMOGRAPHICS AT PLAY

Getting the maximum lifespan from facilities and technology is therefore a matter of looking ahead to anticipate the trends that will affect the predominant demographic groups that make up a cruise line’s passengers. P&O, for instance, knows
that its passengers will be mainly – though not exclusively – British, and that their average age will be around 60.

Among this passenger profile there will still be a wide range of tastes, and during the length of the cruise – be it two weeks or three months – couples will want to engage in different activities from night to night. “People may find they have favourite areas, but you need to offer them many alternatives,” says Radford. “We are very conscious of the variance in passenger profiles, and we recognise that this differs on the trade you operate. Passengers on Caribbean cruises are different to those on Baltic cruises. The route and the season define the profile of our passengers.”

Planning entertainments therefore requires a close understanding of the many factors at play in establishing the passenger demographic. In August, for instance, the average age of passengers falls dramatically as more families with children take cruises. For longer cruises, such as the Aurora’s next 100-day trip, which will carry 1000 people, P&O faces challenges that are completely different from, say, a short cruise from Southampton to Europe or Africa.

The fact that entertainment facilities are not at the top of a potential passenger’s shopping list when making the decision over which cruise to take does not make it a low priority for cruise line operators. It may not be the most critical factor in winning new business, but getting the blend of facilities, shows, musicians, comedians and performers wrong can be extremely damaging to business.

“Entertainments are important compared with some other guest amenities,” says Radford, “though itinerary, shore excursions, accommodation and food remain the prime motivations for our passengers. But entertainment is key – if there is any failure it has a very bad effect on passenger experience.”

Passenger experience is crucial to getting repeat business and building the reputation of a cruise line in the marketplace. Understanding the needs of passengers means having a detailed breakdown of the likely target market for each line and in each season.

“Getting the blend of facilities, shows, musicians, comedians and performers wrong can be extremely damaging to business.”

STRIKING A BALANCE

However, while examining the demographics and data on passengers is important in deciding the appropriate entertainment strategy, there is also another dimension that is equally important – a feeling for passengers’ preferences and the trends that affect them. Developing this sense comes from close contact with passengers and listening to their feedback on their experience.

“Entertainment is not a science,” says Radford, “it is an art. We monitor the daily onboard comments and passenger surveys, and conduct market research into our existing and potential passengers. Entertainment tastes are constantly changing. The 60-year old of today is not the 60-year old of ten years ago. They are younger in heart and mind, and we have to stay close to these changes.”

Balancing detailed knowledge of the market with the development of close relationships with passengers is the key to getting the right balance in entertainment and leisure facilities, and ultimately to building future business.