Interview with Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President & Chief Executive Officer of Celebrity Cruises with Candid Responses about COVID-19 and Future of Cruising

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Interview by: Don of
August 12, 2020
Coordinated by: Celebrity Cruises, Susan Lomax, AVP, Global Public Relations and Social Media

How did Celebrity prepare for the CDC Shutdown due to COVID-19 of all cruise line operations?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) Our decision to shut down in March was done out of an abundance of caution prioritizing the health and safety of our guests and crew. So, we voluntarily stopped operating before the CDC No Sail Order was put in place. We were, and still are, in close contact with all government officials and regulators around the world, as well as our colleagues at the Cruise Line International Association to ensure we take the necessary precautions to remain as safe as possible. It took a herculean effort across our entire company from Operations to Marketing to quickly plan and execute it. Needless to say, this is not something you prepare for as it is unprecedented. However, I am happy to work with the best professionals in the industry and they did an unbelievable job. Ship and shore.

What were some of the challenges presented and how were they overcome?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) As you can imagine, in the face of an unprecedented health crisis, there were many challenges to consider. Perhaps chief among the concerns was getting our guests and crew home once we suspended operations. Especially given the change in information and protocols throughout that time. This virus was still new and there was much none of us knew – including scientists and regulators. As news of the virus spread around the world, ports, cities and countries began closing. Overcoming this was extremely complex when it came to getting our guests home to their different countries, along with our more than 20,000 crew home from 60 different countries. It required us to work with governments, ports, travel partners and health officials around the world – many of whom shut their borders even to their own citizens. Our last guests got home in early May and I’m happy to share that we’ll have all of our crew home by the end of August. Getting our crew home took many months longer than we wanted it to and our teams have worked 24/7 to get every crew member home.

What specifically is being done to make Celebrity Ships passenger ready when CDC allows industry wide operations to resume?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) We have formed a Healthy Sail Panel, a group of the best minds and leaders in public health, biosecurity, epidemiology, hospitality and maritime operations who are lending their insights and expertise to strengthen our current protocols and create new protocols across the entire cruise experience. As part of this, we’re also working on several digital innovations to create increased “touchless” experiences. We recently announced a new e-Muster experience where we’re taking the decades-old group safety procedure and turning it into an experience you can do on your own time and almost entirely on your mobile phone or your stateroom TV. This is just one of several enhancements you will see us introduce. We will announce more specificity on the exact protocols we will be implementing over the coming months as we finalize them and as they are approved by regulators.

How has marketing changed for Celebrity during this time?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) We have focused on keeping our guests engaged with us digitally via our social channels, website and e-newsletters. We’ve shared stories of the crew members who make our onboard experience so special; and tapped into wanderlust for future trips and the experiences offered on our beautiful ships. While so much of our focus and resources are devoted to our safe return to sailing, we’re also examining our current strategies and really thinking about how we want to market the new luxury experience offered by Celebrity as we come out of our suspension and announce our re-entry into service. The pandemic has changed so much for the travel industry and we want to be able to communicate to our audience how Celebrity Cruises is leading the way with new industry standards of service, health and safety to uniquely deliver the best and most luxurious vacations at sea.

Once CDC lifts cruise restrictions, how will Celebrity regain previous cruising enthusiasts, and market to new ones who are now weary?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) We have been incredibly surprised and humbled by the tremendous support from our loyalty guests and cruise enthusiasts. They have been booking at near historic levels for 2021 and beyond. We’re already seeing pent-up demand for future Caribbean, Alaska and Europe sailings. Our research confirms that people are anxious to resume leisure travel when the time is right, and we’ll be ready to greet them back onboard. We will have a slightly more difficult time converting the new to cruise market, as they will be the most difficult to convert in the short term; but, we are developing a compelling message to convince and convert them to cruising as an option for their next vacation. We also believe that therapeutics, testing and vaccines will go a long way in changing minds about cruising for those who might not be so sure cruising is for them.

Once service resumes, what are the strategic plans 1 year, 2 years and 5 years out?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) My mantra since the beginning of our suspension in service is that “The Comeback will be Stronger than the Setback.” We have a passion for continuous improvement and are more determined than ever to lead the way with compelling new ideas for our brand and our industry. We’re looking carefully at everything from ship design to onboard offerings to the destinations we visit to ensure we are always at the forefront of what today’s contemporary travelers are seeking. We have also used this unique opportunity presented with the pause of our business to think about some of the things we have always wanted to do as a brand but that are a bit more difficult when you are in the throes of operation. However, we have some new thinking about how Celebrity will be positioned as we emerge and re-enter service. We will start most of our ideas immediately and some will take 3-5 years for us to fully realize. Too soon to tell, but suffice it to say we will not look completely the same.

How has this industry wide pause affected Celebrity and the related services in the cruise line industry?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) The impact on our way of life for all of us has been profound and the cruise industry has taken as hard a blow as any industry out there. At the beginning of 2020, the cruise industry was looking at a record-breaking year. We never could have imagined the current scenario with unprecedented circumstances resulting in hardships for our employees, our crew, our suppliers, ancillary businesses who rely heavily on our industry, and travel partners around the world. Some of the ports we visit in Alaska and the Caribbean, for example, have been devastated by the lack of cruise passengers they count on to fuel their local economies and we’ve been working hard to support various small businesses and organizations there. We set-up an RCL Cares program to help our travel partners understand how to navigate through to access the government funding made available to small businesses and we honored their commissions for canceled sailings. And, we continue to offer support to our crew around the world until we can bring them back onboard. The thing that will be most beneficial for all is when we are sailing again, and that is what we are very focused on accomplishing right now.

What is Celebrity doing specifically to calm investors during this time?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) The transcript of our latest earnings call is a matter of public record.

What where some lessons learned over the last 5 months during to CDC shutdown of industry?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) There have been many lessons learned during this time. One that I have frequently come back to is the importance of being flexible and openminded. Navigating our brand through unprecedented times means we have had to challenge ourselves to think and operate in new ways as the current health situation around the world remains very fluid.

How will the cruise line industry change to address COVID-19 upon resuming operations?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) I think, overall, you will see an enhanced focus on health and safety across the industry and new protocols that will be both short and long term. Celebrity has an exemplary record of the highest of standards for our health and safety protocols, and we will continue to ensure that we exceed our guest expectations and industry standards in this area.

Why should those wanting to cruise choose Celebrity over other cruise lines?

(Lisa Lutoff-Perlo) Celebrity Cruises offers an unparalleled new luxury vacation experience. We are the only cruise line that lives in this space. We combine culinary excellence, superior and intuitive service, luxurious accommodations, and revitalizing wellness options onboard the most beautifully designed ships at sea. We have won more awards for our experience, design and service than anyone else in our industry. We travel to the most wonderful places on all seven continents and are committed to leaving them better than we found them. We are built on a foundation of purpose that celebrates and insists on diversity and inclusion. I humbly believe all of these are compelling reasons why anyone wanting to take an amazing vacation should do so on a Celebrity ship. I can’t wait to welcome everyone aboard!

Lisa Lutoff-Perlo President & Chief Executive Officer of Celebrity Cruises

One of the few American women leading a multi-billion-dollar company, Lisa Lutoff-Perlo is a trailblazer in the global hospitality industry. She is recognized as the driving force behind transforming and re-defining today’s new luxury cruise experience and building demand with unparalleled brand vision and stewardship; award-winning guest service and operational expertise; and an innate ability for building high-performing, culturally-inclusive teams, among others.

Taking the helm as President and CEO at Celebrity Cruises in 2014, Lutoff-Perlo led the company into an era of unprecedented growth, including record financial performance and shareholder value. She doubled operating income; delivered double-digit ROIC and double-digit yield improvement; and increased EBITDA by 70%. Along with accelerated financial performance, Celebrity also introduced the critically acclaimed Edge Series of ships in 2018, has achieved historic levels of guest satisfaction, and has won hundreds of top industry awards for innovation and service, all under her leadership.

She is a member of the Board of Directors of Fortune 500 company AutoNation (NYSE: AN), America’s largest and most recognized automotive retailer, where she sits on the Audit and Governance Committees. She also actively lends her expertise to numerous international and regional nonprofit organization boards including Best Buddies Global Board of Directors, United Way of Broward County and Nova Southeastern University, Broward Center of Innovation.

Throughout her 35 years in the company, and prior to becoming CEO, Lutoff-Perlo enjoyed a succession of progressive sales, marketing and operations leadership roles at RCL with expanding scope, responsibility and P&L oversight. In 2005, she became Celebrity’s first female Senior Vice President of Hotel Operations. In 2012, she was named Executive Vice President of Operations for Royal Caribbean, the first woman in the industry to oversee both hotel and marine operations. Two short years later, she was the first woman appointed to CEO of a Brand in the RCL Corporation.

Known as a bold and strategic innovator, with a keen ability to identify market opportunities, tap into consumer trends, and motivate entire organizations to effectively execute them with an unwavering commitment to excellence and results, some of her significant accomplishments have included:

  • Overseeing more than $5B in capex investment to envision and deliver the most ergonomic and stunning ships at sea and modernizing the existing Celebrity fleet, resulting in record yield improvement for the company.
  • Leveraging data analytics as an essential component to better understand consumer motivations; evaluate campaigns; personalize digital content; trigger loyalty; and, ultimately, attract new audiences.
  • Rebranding Celebrity as a “new luxury” line and solidifying industry-leading luxury brand partnerships with such organizations as Forbes Travel Guide, Chef Daniel Boulud and American Ballet Theater.
  • Increasing marketing spend by 47% to increase brand awareness and conversion of affluent vacationers.
  • Achieving record employee engagement with a global workforce of more than 20,000 crew members from over 70 different countries sailing to 300 destinations around the world and developing a new, award-winning service culture that resulted in an historic 8-point increase in net promoter scores in just three years.
  • Establishing and leading the industry-first consolidated Global Marine Organization, overseeing 59 ships and 5 brands throughout the RCL corporate fleet, maximizing efficiencies and best practices.
  • Catalyzing cultural innovation in the 200-year-old-industry, in 2015, Lutoff-Perlo appointed the first American woman as Captain in the Celebrity fleet and ultimately increased Celebrity’s percentage of women on the bridge from 3% to 27%, in just five years, exceeding the industry average of 2%.

Lutoff-Perlo has received numerous awards for her groundbreaking contributions to the cruise industry, travel industry, the South Florida business community, gender equality, and diversity and inclusion including an Honorary Doctorate from Nova Southeastern University; Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Cruise Line Industry Association (CLIA) and Women in Travel; induction into the International Hall of Fame by the Maritime Association of the Port of New York and New Jersey; Leadership in Diversity Award from the Committee for Economic Development; and the prestigious The Eleanor Roosevelt Center Val-Kill Medal of Honor, acknowledging individuals whose far-reaching influence has made our world a better place.

Celebrity Cruises

Celebrity Cruises’ iconic “X” is the mark of modern luxury, with its cool, contemporary design and warm spaces; dining experiences where the design of the venues is as important as the cuisine; and the amazing service that only Celebrity can provide, all created to provide an unmatchable experience for vacationers’ precious time.

Since Celebrity’s first sailing in 1990, it has been recognized as an industry leader, praised for providing spacious, stylish interiors; dining experiences elevated to an art form; personalized service, with a guest-to-staff ratio of nearly 2:1; and unexpected, trendsetting onboard activities, all designed to provide a unique experience for vacationers. The introduction of Celebrity’s stylish, widely heralded Solstice Class of ships has reinforced the premium cruise brand’s position as an industry leader.

In December, 2018, Celebrity Cruises delivered the first of five ships in its new Edge Series, the transformational Celebrity Edge.

Designed completely in 3-D, and featuring the work of A-list global architects and designers, the 2,918-guest Celebrity Edge was immediately hailed as the most exciting and innovative ship at sea – a game-changer for the cruising industry. With a revolutionary outward-facing design, the ship aims to connect guests with the sea from every vantage point, make discerning global travelers redefining how discerning global travelers experience the world. The ship’s refined contemporary design set a new baseline for ships, along with several new features including:

  • The Magic Carpet – the world’s first cantilevered platform on a ship makes Celebrity Edge instantly recognizable from miles away. The size of a tennis court, the platform scales the 16-deck ship throughout the day and evening, positioning at different decks for different experiences ranging from a dinner with the most amazing views; to cocktails and light bites in the most amazing al fresco seating imaginable; an expansion of the pool area; or a fully accessible gateway for destination excursions.
  • Infinite Veranda – a design breakthrough that erases the boundary between the stateroom and its veranda, creating a seamless space with 23 per cent more room. With the simple touch of a button, guests enjoy open-air access to the sea, bringing the outside in.
  • The Retreat – the ultimate sanctuary for world travelers a new private utopia available to suite guests only that includes a private outdoor pool, a private indoor lounge with around-the-clock personal butler service and an exclusive restaurant with a menu created by renowned Chef Daniel Boulud, Luminae @ The Retreat.
  • Edge Villas – six split-level villas offer stunning views from two stories of windows, private plunge pools and direct walk-out access to The Retreat sundeck.
  • Rooftop Garden – an unexpected outdoor playscape tended daily by a resident horticulturist providing a place to enjoy game and activities by day, live music or movie-and-meal pairings by night.

Celebrity Edge was joined by a sister ship, Celebrity Apex, in March, 2020.

Celebrity’s Solstice Class ships exemplify Celebrity’s emphasis on designing stunning ships and inviting onboard experiences for vacationers who appreciate the finer things. The ships have taken stylish cruising and impeccable service to new heights. Celebrity Solstice set sail in 2008, Celebrity Equinox in 2009, and Celebrity Eclipse in 2010. All three hold 2,850 guests (double occupancy) and have a tonnage of 122,000. Celebrity Silhouette debuted in 2011, and Celebrity Reflection debuted in 2012. Celebrity Silhouette holds 2,886 guests (double occupancy) and has a tonnage of 122,400. Celebrity Reflection holds 3,030 guests (double occupancy) and has a tonnage of 126,000.

Celebrity’s Solstice Class features the industry’s first “Lawn Club” – an outdoor, country club-like venue featuring a lawn of real, growing grass where guests can practice their putting, play lawn games like croquet and lawn bowling, or simply relax under the sun and stars; the first Hot Glass Show at sea, presented in collaboration with The Corning Museum of Glass; and a slate of breathtaking new shows. Inspired by the latest trends in entertainment and the hottest global tickets, the brand redefined the way it delivers premium, unexpected experiences to guests, unveiling an impressive array of 18 shows in 18 months – all produced in partnership with masterminds behind some of today’s biggest recording artists and awarding-winning theatrical and television productions. The Solstice Class also offers larger, more intuitive staterooms influenced by “Celebrity’s Leading Ladies,” five Boomer women with unique travel and hospitality insights. The new ships present fewer inside staterooms than other ships – 90% of the ships’ staterooms offer outside views and 85% of staterooms have verandas – and feature an entirely new category of staterooms, “AquaClass,” designed with spa enthusiasts in mind, offering a host of exclusive amenities. AquaClass guests enjoy unlimited access to the spa’s Persian Garden, located in the two-story AquaSpa by Elemis, as well as priority seating in Blu, a specialty restaurant with healthy dishes created exclusively for AquaClass guests.

Celebrity Reflection, debuted in December 2012, with the premium brand’s first-ever “AquaClass Suites,” each with 300 square feet of luxurious interior design and spacious 79-square-foot verandas, including all exclusive amenities associated with Celebrity’s AquaClass staterooms. The fifth Solstice Class ship also introduced new “Signature Suites,” each offering a 441-square-foot stateroom area and a 118-square-foot veranda with floor-to-ceiling windows and veranda doors. Nestled in the highly desirable corner location of the 14th deck near Celebrity’s new Signature Suites, the 1,636-square-foot “Reflection Suite” is the premium cruise brand’s first two-bedroom suite, complete with a truly distinctive sea-view bathroom extending out over the edge of the ship, a veranda tub with soothing rain shower and panoramic views courtesy of the 194-square-foot wraparound veranda. The unique lines of suites offer guests a menu of Celebrity’s signature suite amenities, including luxurious 24/7 butler service.

During its launch in 2011, Celebrity Silhouette introduced several new venues, including “The Lawn Club Grill,” the industry’s first outdoor, interactive grill venue; The Porch, with a chic Hamptons-style design, offers casual breakfasts and lunches overlooking The Lawn Club and the sea; The Art Studio, where guests can participate in intimate, hands-on instruction from experts in drawing, painting and beading, as well as the art of food, with culinary-themed classes; The Alcoves, eight cabana-style settings for partial or all-day rentals on the perimeter of The Lawn Club, offering themed picnic baskets, an á la carte beverage menu and WiFi; and The Hideaway, with its avant-garde, cozy, tree house design, creating a quiet retreat for reading a good book or a high-tech escape for vacationers relaxing with iPads, which are available to rent.

Dining on Celebrity’s ships is an exceptional experience, rivaling restaurants on land. Six specialty restaurants have their own unique menu and ambience:

  • Qsine, the one-of-a-kind restaurant featuring a “uniquely unordinary” approach to dining, is available on Celebrity Eclipse, Celebrity Silhouette, Celebrity Reflection, Celebrity Summit, Celebrity Millennium and Celebrity Infinity. The food in Qsine is artfully presented, and guests are encouraged to experiment, share and try new things without traditional courses. Vacationers may begin their unique dining experience by viewing the menu and wine lists presented on an iPad, which everyone at the table receives.
  • Murano allows for a savory, multi-course meal featuring a blend of classic and modern continental cuisine. Many selections on the menu are prepared tableside, making dining a truly spectacular event.
  • Tuscan Grille is a sophisticated steakhouse and specialty restaurant that provides the ultimate grill experience at sea.
  • At Silk Harvest guests can enjoy the delicious cuisine of Vietnam, Thailand, Japan, China and India, served family-style.
  • Blu is open to AquaClass stateroom guests. The specialty dining venue’s menu features fresh, flavorful and lighter fare. Guests can relax in an intimate, Mediterranean-themed atmosphere, while enjoying healthy, “clean cuisine” for breakfast and dinner.
  • The Lawn Club Grill provides guests with an outdoor, interactive grill venue overlooking the lush lawn and soothing sea onboard Celebrity Silhouette and Celebrity Reflection. Guests have the opportunity to choose to dine for lunch and dinner. Vacationers may also attend classes focused on pizza-making, grilling secrets, marinades and more. Guests have their choice from top-quality meats to grill themselves, side-by-side Celebrity’s chefs, or have them grilled to order.

Additionally world-class dining options offered across the fleet include:

  • Suite Class guests will be indulged with a new and exclusive restaurant—Luminae. Offering complimentary breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Luminae is a culinary experience of modern, eclectic cuisine and extraordinary service that will remind you (and your taste buds) that there’s no better way to vacation than as a Celebrity Cruises Suite Class guest. Luminae offers a deliciously exclusive dining experience like no other.
  • Sushi on Five, Celebrity’s modern luxury take on traditional Japanese fare, promises the opportunity to try fresh ground wasabi and premium, super-premium, and specialty sakes – selected by a sake sommelier.

The Millennium Class features elegant specialty dining options featuring the savory menu from Murano. The menu, blending classic and modern continental cuisine, features a superb wine list and is complemented by exquisite European-style service. At the Ocean Liners restaurant onboard Celebrity Constellation, diners are surrounded by rare artifacts and art deco design transporting them back to the 1920s. The SS United States onboard Celebrity Infinity has original etched glass panels from the SS United States ocean liner. On Celebrity Summit, the Normandie restaurant is outfitted with original paneling and ornamentation from the famed SS Normandie. And the Olympic restaurant onboard Celebrity Millennium features paneling from the historic RMS Olympic, sister-ship to the Titanic.

“Solsticizing” the Millennium Class

The Solsticizing of Celebrity’s Millennium Class ships includes the incorporation of iconic Solstice Class attributes through a significant revitalization.

Among the Solstice Class features introduced on Celebrity’s Millennium Class ships:

  • Qsine, the “uniquely unordinary” specialty restaurant
  • Tuscan Grille, the popular, Napa Valley-meets-Italian-steakhouse venue on select ships
  • Bistro on Five, the vibrant creperie
  • A Solstice Class-inspired, ice-topped Martini Bar paired with Crush, a VIP-like lounge area. The Martini Bar features a selection of chilled, top-tier vodkas
  • The ‘cool’ Café al Bacio and Gelateria, replaced the former Cova Café
  • An Enomatic wine bar, the state-of-the-art, Italian-designed wine serving system allowing guests to select and serve, at the touch of a button, wines of their choice by the glass
  • More sumptuous suites, on a par with those in the most modern hotels in Europe, with all new furniture, flat-screen TVs, upholstery, bedding and carpeting
  • Restyled staterooms, with entirely new carpeting, flat-screen TVs, upholstery and bedding
  • New color schemes, carpeting and upholstery reflective of Solstice Class in every public venue, from the Celebrity Theater to Seaside Grill, from the main dining room to Michael’s Club
  • The spa-inspired AquaClass staterooms and Mediterranean-themed specialty restaurant Blu on select Millennium Class ships

The revitalization, when combined with the brand’s robust and widely varied onboard entertainment and enrichment program, Celebrity Life; a broader, well-received Captain’s Club loyalty program; and other brand enhancements – represents a nearly $200-million investment.

The first ship to be “Solsticized” was Celebrity Constellation in May 2010 and later in April 2013, followed by Celebrity Infinity in November 2011, Celebrity Summit in January 2012 and Celebrity Millennium in May 2012.

Celebrity’s Solstice Class ships also were the first in the industry to utilize solar technology, with some of the solar panels serving the dual purpose of providing shade within the Solarium as well as energy production.

In February 2014, it was officially announced that Celebrity would be partnering with Canyon Ranch, one of the world’s leading spa and wellness brands, to feature Canyon Ranch SpaClub at Sea facilities across Celebrity’s existing fleet of 10 ships. The luxurious Canyon Ranch SpaClub includes a relaxing spa, beauty salon, and wellness and fitness amenities, highlighted with signature Canyon Ranch offerings.

For more than a decade, Celebrity has been bringing its guests to a place that, for many, is nothing short of a life-changing experience. Few guests are left untouched by the unspoiled beauty and historical significance of the Galapagos Islands. The brand has acted as a steward of the archipelago; one of many organizations and environmental groups who know that in order to keep the islands as close as possible to their original state requires constant effort, vigilance, and, above all, respect.

In early 2016, it was announced that the modern luxury brand would be extending it’s fleet capacity in the Galapagos Islands, acquiring tour operator Ocean Adventures and its two ships. The ships, the 48-guest Celebrity Xperience and the 16-guest Celebrity Xploration, continued operating under the Ocean Adventures name until both completed dry-dock in March 2017, officially joining the Celebrity Cruises family.

In September 2016, Celebrity Cruises launched a new global campaign titled Sail Beyond Borders, a statement of the brand’s philosophy. The modern luxury cruise line that visits more than 280 cities around the world, and is home to a crew representing more than 50 different cultures, debuted a global campaign that encourages people to travel, experience different cultures and have a more enriching existence. Opening up the world and encouraging people to go beyond borders is Celebrity Cruises’ core belief. A 30-second video titled “Far Away” aired nationally following the first televised Presidential Debate on September 26, 2016.

Celebrity sails to Alaska, Asia, Australia/New Zealand, Bermuda, California, Canada/New England, the Caribbean, Europe, Hawaii, the Pacific Coast, Panama Canal, South America, and year-round in the Galapagos Islands. Celebrity also offers immersive cruisetour experiences in Alaska and Canada. Celebrity is one of five cruise brands operated by global cruise vacation company Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. (NYSE: RCL).

For more information, dial 1-800-437-3111, visit, or call a travel agent.

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