Friday, October 16, 2009

Regent Seven Seas Dress Code Downgrade - Relying on Cruise Critic: A Mere Ploy. But What Is the Value Of It All?

When Regent Seven Seas Cruises posted a poll on Cruise Critic seeking out preferences as to dress code I smirked.  I "knew" the decision has already been made to go casual.  That poll was, to be sure, more like a lawyer looking for support for a position than a scientist looking for data.  And, alas, any good lawyer knows to never ask a question if you don't already know the answer.

Let me explain:  Cruise Critic may be the largest community for cruisers in the world, but it represents far less than one (1%) of the cruising population.  Just take a look at the poll itself.  As of today there were only 443 votes...less than the number of guests found on the Voyager or Mariner at any time (even including if occupancy is little more then half full)...and about what you might find on the Navigator.  So there can be 1,850+ guests (plus 3rd and 4ths) on three ships at any time. Then consider that the poll was conducted and the decision decided in little over a month; so figure conservatively 3 voyages x 1,850 guests = 5,550 guests stays in the month.  The poll represents less than 1% of the sailing guests over that brief period.

But it is actually less relevant than that.  Why?  First, because there is no way to know that everyone that voted has (a) actually sailed on Regent; and, (b) actually has any intention of sailing on Regent in the relevant future.  And I am sure there are those with multiple sign-ins.

Of course the biggest reason to question the 66% in favor of a "causal only" dress code is because the demographics of who even knows about Cruise Critic vs. those that only lurk vs. those that actually post vs. those that actually cruise on Regent essentially renders the statistical validity of the query worthless.  (Of course it also seeks to justify offending 34% of the CC voters who want formal nights...and in this market offending such a large population is generally avoided at all costs.)

And then, of course, is the announcement on Cruise Critic by Mark Conroy, President of Regent.  He states, in part, "Most importantly, the recent poll on Cruise Critic showed that the majority of current guests and those that are considering sailing with us support a slightly less formal dress code – two thirds of those who voted are in favor of an Elegant Casual evening dress code."  Wait a minute, 293 people voting on Cruise Critic are the "most important" factor in making the decision.  Sorry, I am not drinking that Kool-aid.

By now you must be wondering, why all the statistical mumbo-jumbo.  Because the "justification" comments are just silly.  If Regent really wanted to know what its guests thought, they already knew what to do:  Have some focus groups onboard and in local events (like they did when designing the now abandoned new ship) or have a brief telephone poll.

Please understand that I am not protesting the Regent decision.  I think it is part of a plan that is long over due...and, for what it is worth, I support it.  I think Regent is quickly becoming an inclusive Oceania-type product and that result will be many more happy guests, less frustrations for management and guests, and a much easier time marketing an actually achievable product to an audience that is very receptive to "free" being a better thing than "value".

While there are less and less people that compare Seabourn and Regent (due to the change in product), a July 10, 2010 11 night cruise on the 700 passenger Mariner departing from Rome starts at $8,060 per person (or $732 per day) per person.  A July 3, 2010 14 night cruise on the 200 guest Seabourn Legend departing from Rome in a French balcony suite starts at $8,549 (or $610 per day) per person. So for the 11 days a guest is paying $1,342 more for the Regent cruise (11 days x $122 per day higher rate).  Right now the airfare for those cruises, booked privately, is under $1,000.  Throw in a couple of "free" tours and you are essentially paying the same price for the Regent cruise as you are the Seabourn cruise.

Remember, though, on Seabourn you are on small ship with higher level of personalized service, a finer level of cuisine, a more refined cruise experience (of course, with formal nights), no lines and access to smaller ports and/or locations in town rather than being bussed to it.

Now does that mean that you should book Seabourn over Regent?  No!  It means that you now have two decidedly different products to choose from. Just don't think because Regent says things are "Free, Free, Free, Free" there is actually any "value" in excess of what, for example, Seabourn offers.

As a travel agent I am thrilled that there is now a defined difference.  I feel far more comfortable selling Regent because it is making it known what it really is all about.  Please, though, do us all one last favor (and I promise I won't ask for much more):  Try to just be straight with us.  Say, "Regent has decided to modify its product (and target market)...and don't do silly things like say 293 Cruise Critic posters (whether they have ever sailed on Regent or not) decided it.

Now, there are "values" out there.  Folks, now is a great time to relearn the differences between the cruise lines,  decide which flavor you prefer and book!