Josh Leibowitz tots up the strengths, challenges of selling Cunard to Americans

Josh Leibowitz - a focus on 'only on Cunard' experiences 'but on your terms' Josh Leibowitz - a focus on 'only on Cunard' experiences 'but on your terms'

'Landmarks at sea' is what Josh Leibowitz, the new stateside standard-bearer for Cunard, calls Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.

'They feel different than other ships. And a crossing is way more than a cruise. It's an experience,' he said.

'When you go on the three Queens, you have a sense of belonging because of the historical connection, but also a sense of comfort with all these really incredible spaces. You could dance or listen to the music, or go to the library if you just want to read a book,' Leibowitz continued.

The Queens' Art Deco styling makes 'you really feel like you're in another time. You can be yourself, not be distracted by technology.'

Leibowitz said Queen Mary 2's scale and its spaciousness, and the lavish duplexes and suites, some with their own names, are other things that set Cunard apart.

The challenge of promoting Cunard in North America is that 'we're a niche brand. You need to build a base of people familiar with the experience who can recommend it.' Plus, there are assumptions to tackle—that Cunard's too formal and has a class system.

Since Leibowitz, who's also Carnival Corp. & plc's chief strategy officer, added the role of svp North America for Cunard this year, the management team has been committed to 're-think' how the brand is communicated.

A whole host of 'only on Cunard' experiences are the focus, 'but on your terms,' Leibowitz said. Masquerade balls in the Queens Room and box seats in the Royal Court Theatre are two examples of 'only on Cunard.' But if you don't want to dress up for the ball or go to the theatre, you can hang out in the pub, try the casino or do other things.

It's not as regimented as Americans may think.

As for a class system, 'everywhere in hospitality, when you pay a premium, you expect incredible experiences.' Other ships have their suite decks. The Queens Grill and Princess Grill are 'only on Cunard,' with a table reserved exclusively for you, whenever you wish to dine. 'It's a premium suite experience with private spaces that you would expect,' Leibowitz said.

On the flip side, the Britannia Restaurant is like dining at the Waldorf or the Savoy, where nobody knows what room you're staying in.

The challenge of communicating Cunard in North America lies with both travel agents and consumers. Some agents 'haven't had sufficient exposure or access to the brand to know to recommend it,' so there's a focused effort to give retailers more time on the ships and to work with the big consortia on raising awareness.

During a recent travel agency visit, Leibowitz met a woman in her mid-30s 'with a sparkle in her eye,' who told him: 'I love Cunard. It's got character and energy and is something so many people should experience.'

He believes the brand is relevant to travelers in their 30s, 40s and 50s, not just older people. Younger agents, like this woman, 'can help us tell the story.'

When it comes to consumers, Leibowitz advocates for digital marketing which can reach targeted segments far more efficiently than broadcast media.

The number of Cunard's online impressions 'would blow you away,' he said, adding that the brand's digital reach would make television advertisers envious.

But Cunard also has been on TV stateside since the start of the year with its 30-second spot, 'Everything you wanted, nothing you expected,' airing on 'Ocean Treks with Jeff Corwin' and 'Vacation Creation,' programs created by Carnival Corp. to highlight cruising.

Some of the audiences Cunard is targeting digitally include those who could find relevant personal history in the brand, so there's a partnership with for 'A Journey of Genealogy.' And veterans groups and World War II buffs are the focus of Queen Mary 2's Aug. 4 crossing when veterans in their 90s, 'heroes of the Atlantic,' will be aboard. Ballroom dancers are yet another market segment, and the liner's 'Transatlantic Fashion Week' pinpoints still another.

Deployment is critical to growing the North American base, too. Queen Victoria, in particular, offers itineraries designed to appeal, including this summer and fall's Mediterranean sailings and 2018's 50-day South America voyage round-trip Fort Lauderdale.

Queen Victoria's $40m refit this spring follows the $130m put into Queen Mary 2 last year and will add Britannia Club balcony staterooms and dining, redesign the suites and introduce a gin and fizz themed menu to the Midships Lounge.

According to Leibowitz, 'Investing so much in such a young ship will appeal to the American audience. They appreciate the idea of taking something great and making it better.'

Cunard's return to Alaska in 2019 for the first time in two decades is also aimed mainly at North Americans. Queen Elizabeth will operate the sailings.

Leibowitz won't say what percentage of Cunard's business North America comprises—only that 'it will increase significantly.'

He continues to report to ceo Arnold Donald in his Carnival Corp. role (where he oversees corporate strategy for Carnival Cruise Line, Princess, Holland America, Costa, AIDA, P&O Cruises, Cunard and Seabourn) and to Simon Palethorpe, svp Cunard in the UK, for his Cunard job.

Before joining Carnival Corp., Leibowitz was a partner at McKinsey & Co. where he got broad experience being embedded into various company management teams.

What's new for him with the Cunard responsibility is that 'I've never been the steward of something with this kind of legacy, so I find special meaning in that.'

Posted 17 April 2017

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Anne Kalosh

Editor, Seatrade Cruise News & Senior Associate Editor Seatrade Cruise Review