When Greek-owned Mediterranean cruise line Celestyal Cruises wanted to make a small-budget, high-impact media splash as they expanded into the Australian market, Gate 7’s PR team looked to highlight their culturally authentic, destination-focused messaging to help it stand out from its competition. The resulting PR strategy, which worked in concert with an in-market sales representative saw the brand’s key message weave with local travel trends to produce a 17% increase in local sales, and 38% increase in passenger numbers.
Background and Challenge
Celestyal Cruises has fast built a reputation and recognition as the perfect choice for cruise travellers to the Greek Islands and East Mediterranean thanks to its regional expertise and exceptional hospitality. Celestyal says “our destinations are the heroes, not our ships,” a philosophy that underscores their key point of difference amongst myriad competing Mediterranean cruise operators. But, Celestyal doesn’t skimp on the on-board experience either. Their mid-sized vessels are perfectly equipped to ensure award-winning, genuine and highly personalised service with food and entertainment options that equally reflect the cultural authenticity featured in the lines’ itineraries.
It’s these same mid-sized ships that enable Celestyal’s recognised focus on authentic cultural experiences through their ability to dock in smaller and less accessible ports, most of which are unreachable by competitors’ mega-liners. With fewer ships in these niche destinations, onshore excursions showcase the largely unspoiled cultural authenticity and unique, and otherwise unattainable, experiences in the ports.
Celestyal engaged Gate 7 to act as a guiding set of safe hands to help craft a high-impact, small-budget PR strategy to coincide with their expansion into the Australian market and capitalise on market intelligence that highlighted Australians’ affinity for cruising (1 in 18 Australians have taken a cruise). This new, multi-layer plan had to work hand-in-hand with Celestyal’s existing industry-facing sales representative while supporting the cruise line’s updated in-market product distribution strategy. Most importantly, the plan had to drive brand awareness, expand the brand’s Australian consumer demographic base, and boost direct bookings.
Strategy and Solution
Gate 7’s team wanted to emphasise Celestyal’s unique culturally authentic point-of-difference in the crowded Mediterranean cruise industry as the key message for the PR push. Having extensive experience in destination representation, Gate 7’s team was perfectly positioned to leverage Celestyal’s destination focus. Doing things the “Greek way”, and discovering the “real Greece”, two of Celestyal’s key messages, became central pillars of the strategy, as the team looked to share the hidden gem destinations with consumers that only Celestyal’s itineraries offered.
Tailoring the brand’s strategy for the market, Gate 7 took advantage of then-current local travel trends, such as the growing cruise customer base, travellers’ desire to integrate “local life” into their itinerary, and a perception that many traditionally popular destinations were suffering from over-tourism. These guiding principles weaved perfectly with Celestyal’s key messaging when pitching travel media narratives to local publishers.
A significant portion of the coverage revolved around practical, down-to-earth tips on how guests could have the most authentic Greek experiences that were provided by Celestyal’s spokespeople or suppliers, or from locals in destinations that exclusively serviced Celestyal itineraries, highlighting the niche specialisation of the brand. PR efforts were strategically localised to connect the brand’s key messaging with Australian-specific narratives, such as coinciding coverage about Gallipoli’s inclusion as a destination in Celestyal itineraries with ANZAC Day commemorations.
To fully maximise available budget and ensure integration between PR activities and sales strategies, the Gate 7 PR team facilitated connections between the Celestyal sales team and a number of travel media titles, particularly niche cruise-focused publications. Additionally, they ensured that calls-to-action in consumer titles coincided with tactical trade campaigns and current deals to convert awareness to sales with readers, a key goal for the client.
To achieve cost-effective niche and mass-media appeal, the strategy included a number of group and individual journalist familiarisation trips. The breadth of targeted publications included culinary titles, men’s lifestyle magazines, and national general travel mastheads. Celestyal’s team worked to highlight these unique experiences, with one tour guide even bringing a group of journalists to his own home to share a home-cooked meal with his entire family, an experience the journalists were delighted to report on.
Results and Learnings
In the 12 months preceding March 2020, Gate 7’s PR team garnered 79 individual pieces of content, which collectively reached 8.3 million Australian consumers, worth an estimated $3.5 million in PR value. Many of these pieces were placed in some of the country’s most widely circulated publications, however some of the most impactful pieces were landed in more niche titles, showing the impact of Celestyal’s unique point-of-difference in creating compelling narratives.
The coverage meant more than just stunning imagery and nice prose, as in the same time period, Celestyal Cruises saw a 17% increase in Australian-based bookings, and a 38% year-on-year increase in passenger numbers in advance sales from Australia. These strong results once prove that even niche destinations can create an impactful, and needle-moving media splash with a targeted PR budget.
This substantial ROI solidified a long-term relationship between Gate 7 and Celestyal cruises, and reinforced Gate 7’s strategic insight to highlight the cruise line’s unique offering to create awareness in a market crowded with big players.