How Cruise Ships Can Make Money from Onboard Social Media

I'm really excited that most of the major cruise line companies seem to be working on ways to bring affordable, unlimited Internet packages to their ships. Sure, it may not happen tomorrow for every ship in the fleet but this is the sort of thing that can be a paradigm shift for the cruise industry in terms of revenue management onboard. 

While many of these ideas listed below are directly transferable to on-premises social media ideas for resorts and hotels, what makes cruise ships an even more powerful platform is that they are typically self contained entities that exist almost exclusively to upsell the guests - excursions, drinks, specialty dining, pictures, gift shops, and even getting people to book their next voyage before they disembark.

The other key component of a cruise ship is that you already have an entertainment staff along with a Cruise Director and or Entertainment Director who's job is already to help promote money makers like bingo, the "shopping show", art auctions and excursions through an almost incessant series of announcements. Anyone who has cruised before will cringe at comments like "Good afternoon, we have a great sale going on at the gift shop tonight - free alcohol tastings and a buy 1 get 1 sale!" or, "Don't forget to buy tickets for the bufadora tomorrow in Ensenada, there are only 4 tickets left!". Those announcements work but they are unwanted and disruptive.

Now imagine if instead the cruise line encouraged you to Tweet or Instagram your best photo from the free alcohol tastings using a specific hashtag for a chance to win a tee shirt or even a $20 onboard credit.

What results would you get?

1)  You'll get more people down to the alcohol tastings (and more chance to sell bottles of amarula and scotch).

2) You'll earn exposure to their friends at home who will see how much fun their friends are having - and potentially move them into the consideration phase of doing a cruise for their next vacation. Even better, this activity might be a trigger that takes someone at home from simply considering "a cruise" to instead deciding that they want to book a "Carnival Cruise" vs a "Norwegian Cruise".

3) If the prize is a swag item, that is something that they will probably wear and gives them even more of an opportunity to talk about back home. If the prize is onboard credit then that gives them even more opportunity to spend money on the ship. With margins on alcohol, spas, speciality dining etc. as high as they are, a nominal $25 OBC will likely generate a significant amount of overspend. 

Take this concept and apply it towards other scenarios:

  • Tweet a photo of your drink at the Red Frog Bar for a chance to win free drinks on the last day of the cruise. 
  • Instagram a photo of your favorite item in the gift shop for a chance to win it during random drawings throughout the cruise.
  • Share a selfie during bingo for extra entries into the cruise giveaway.

Each of these encourages social sharing and engagement, while connecting it directly with commerce. It works by driving people to a specific location and leveraging their enthusiasm to promote a commercial activity and supports your revenue management goals for the cruise. Even better, since these are social activities it is likely that the person isn't going alone. The fact that they are having fun and giving the cruise line more positive exposure is just gravy.

So, what's the revenue potential here?

Let's take a look at the Carnival Breeze ...

She will sail with about ~3,690 passengers each week, assuming this is a fairly typical distribution of the population, that means 67% will be active social media users (2,345 people) and 15% will be on Twitter and/or Instagram (525 people). On Instagram, currently there is an average of about 200 photos using #CarnivalBreeze on a weekly basis, implying that people are actively posting their photos but at a tiny percentage compared to the potential. Twitter sees a lower number of posts but similarly small fraction the potential.

Let's assume that by executing an onboard "show us your drink" campaign each day we can activate 1.5% of active social media users to visit the bar, buy a drink and then share it on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. That activity will immediately generates an incremental $2,000 for the voyage assuming one drink per person. Even better is that this number does not include the social benefit of being able to use the content as User Generated Content (UGC) on video screens at the pool, or via the owned social media channels. In fact, you could even post the top image in the Fun Times to encourage other people to visit the bar and try that drink. In many cases, that "prestige" and fame is good enough incentive to have people share.

Honestly though, the sky's the limit here and the first cruise line to sieze on this opportunity will be able to almost immediately generate more money online, increase bookings, and increase passenger satisfaction since these are all fun things that flow well with a vacation vs disruptive traditional advertising.