Bad timing for the world’s largest cruise ship

Stacy Graiko

Nearly 40% larger than the next largest cruise ship, Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas left the shipyard in Finland this week en route for its new home in Florida. Five times larger than the Titanic, the $1.5 billion ship has seven neighborhoods, an ice rink, a small golf course and a 750-seat outdoor amphitheater. It has 2,700 cabins and can accommodate 6,300 passengers and 2,100 crew members. Too large for existing cruise ship terminals, a $75 million terminal in Port Everglades had to be built to accommodate the new ship.

What awful timing to launch such a display of decadence! The ship has been in the making for 6 years- building started right at the top of the market. We don’t know the backstory, but imagine the ship’s idea was driven by the climate of consumer spending in the early 2000s: consumers wanted bigger, better, more decadent. Shows of wealth abounded with consumers buying larger homes than necessary, signing jumbo mortgages and overextending on credit. Surely, such a concept as the world’s largest cruise ship would have been popular then.  But now? Things have changed. Frugality is the new affluence. Middle-class consumers are saving more than ever. Those that do have money to spend have cut way back. Even affluent consumers are reluctant to admit they’re still buying luxury when they do. The less-than-stellar bookings for the Oasis have certainly shown this to be true.

So what happens when the consumer needs that a product is based upon change midway through the product’s development cycle? Such cases do happen -especially in products with long r&d cycles like cars, software and cruise ships. In this case Royal Caribbean would be wise to use messaging to downplay outdated consumer values like luxury and decadence and  focus on current consumer ideals like value, entertainment and community. As well, they can talk about the human achievements in innovation and technology needed to design and build the ship. And the sheer number of labor hours which gave lots of people work for a few solid years. In messaging on these values, Royal Caribbean stands a better chance of connecting with consumers then if they continue simply talking about how big and decadent the ship is.

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