Royal Caribbean Push Offers Boatload of Pleas to Vacation

Labor Day may have come and gone, but for those of you who have yet to take a vacation, Royal Caribbean is making its pitch with a series of online videos, dubbed “Vacation Daze,” that prompt Americans to wonder why they work so hard—and don’t reap the benefits of it. The videos, from JWT, New York, offer a number of reasons why vacationing can be good for you, and how the global cruise company, more than any other, “understands just how precious those days off are,” said marketing svp Betsy O’Rourke. The marketing executive, who hails from the hotels business, said she’s seeing cruise demand pick up in these recessionary times. She told Brandweek about the thinking behind the videos, how social media made one of its ship captains a star and how initiatives like these will hopefully have Americans vacationing again. Below are some excerpts.

Brandweek: You’ve  recently kicked off a viral video effort,“Vacation Daze.” Tell us about it.
Betsy O’Rourke:
It’s really three different parts. It’s two different videos. One takes more of an educational point of view to just inform people about how [not taking vacation] has become an epidemic, and people are giving up vacation days. They’re hard-earned days. We earn less than [workers in] any other [part of] the free world, yet we give up more percentage-wise. Why is that? We also created a game where you can capture vacation days and let go of work, and that is accompanied by a sweepstakes called “Cruise Them or Lose Them.” The third part is yet another video that takes on the same topic, from a different angle: Vacation You versus Work You. [One is represented by a file cabinet, the other by a suitcase.] It tries to get into [consumers’] heads about why we don’t take these vacation days and what is it about us that makes us work so hard and not take the precious time off that we’ve earned.

BW: Where are they running? Are they going to be accompanied with a larger ad campaign?
We’ve posted them on Facebook and YouTube, as well as on our Web site. We’re hoping they’ll go viral and that consumers will send them to folks who are guilty of not taking their vacation days.

BW: Vacationing—now? So many Americans are unemployed. How is that a timely concept?
If you think about it, because of [the events] that have taken place, those of us fortunate enough to still have great jobs are filling in for those colleagues who are no longer with us. We are working harder, we’re putting in longer hours, and—this is a big generalization—but across the board, there are fewer people, but the same amount of work is still there. The scope of work hasn’t changed. The number of people available to do it has. [And so] we believe there is pent-up demand for vacation.

BW: Has anyone else in this industry tried this approach before?
We think it’s breakthrough. The one company that raised this issue before—and it did so in the form of a survey—was Expedia. They asked people about their attitudes toward vacation, and one of the questions in that survey was, “How many days do you take, versus how many do you give up?” They were the first ones to raise the idea, but they didn’t ever launch a campaign around it.

BW: Is demand starting to pick up?
For Royal Caribbean, we are seeing a build up in demand. I can’t speak for the entire industry, but I follow what the U.S. Travel Association puts out. I came from the hotels business, and RevPAR [revenue per available room, a key metric] is up, and we’ve seen our business travel, meetings and incentives businesses pick up, so those are all very good signs. We also have more than 40 percent of our guests coming from international countries outside of the U.S. We’ve seen very strong demand across the board, but it varies country by country. We have not reached the ’08 levels yet, but we’re getting pretty close.

BW: What’s your strategy for keeping business afloat in a downturn?
It’s really frankly going back to our past guests, who are very familiar with the product. Those who have cruised with us recognize the opportunity to cruise at an even better value. Then what we have found is they invite their friends who may or may not have cruised before. That has been very successful for us.

BW: The new “Vacation Daze” videos run online only. Is that where you’re spending the bulk of your media dollars—in social and digital media channels?
We are in two channels: TV and online. Television creates a lot of awareness, but what we know is that people go online when they are actually searching to plan their trips. That’s why we’ve chosen these two channels.

To get to your point about social media, we actually really entered into it a little over a year and a half ago, and we started out with both our chairman and our president blogging…[Furthermore], our captain, [William Wright], has literally become a celebrity as a result of starring in our Webisodes. He is often stopped at airports [by fans]. And when he is on board, it takes him over an hour to get from one side of the ship to the other because he is stopped by so many people who ask him for photographs and autographs.

We’ve created our own social media star.