DFNI Cruise Conference spotlights the potential of the booming channel

The Trinity at Sea panel featured (from left) Rene Riedi, Dufry’s Division CEO Latin America & Cruise; Claudia Heskier-Schoenning, Swarovski VP Travel Retail & Global Accounts; and William Butler, Carnival Cruise Lines Vice President of Retail Services; with DFNI-Frontier Editor Kapila Ireland moderating.


The cruise industry is alive and well and flourishing in its original birth place of Miami, as indicated by the response of the travel retail industry to the excellent conference organized by DFNI this June.

Nearly 200 attendees gathered at the Marriott Biscayne Bay to experience two days full of relevant information presented by key operators and suppliers from all over the world.

Hosted in partnership with Starboard Cruise Services, the formal conference was preceded by a cruise tour onboard Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas that Starboard Sr. Vice President Carrie Julier said in her opening remarks, hoped had given those attending a sense of the wonder and magic that guests experience on their cruise ships every day.

Julier detailed how Starboard’s “passion for retail” strives to create ground-breaking experiences for the cruise passenger, and how this deeply immersive experience is an opportunity for brands to build deep relationships with guests.

In the keynote on day one, Christian Konrad, President of Latin America and the Caribbean for Bvlgari, outlined the brand’s perspective on today’s luxury marketplace and the role that travel retail and cruise can play.

Luxury is about experience and the goal is for all shops to reflect this with a homogeneous image worldwide, he stressed. International customers have so many touchpoints as they travel, and store environment plays a big role in delivering this cohesive message, wherever it is located, said Konrad.

“Cruise is a very strategic channel and most important for Bvlgari now,” he confirms.

The first of its kind Bvlgari Fashion show held onboard the Costa Venezia, which created a customized “Italian experience” for guests, was another chance for the brand, working with Starboard and the cruiseline, to build a real relationship, he said. A presentation later in the day by Stefano Menegotto, Starboard’s VP & GM Cruise Retail, Europe and Bvlgari’s Marco Di Santo, Regional Sales Manager – JWACruise Ships & Caribbean, discussed the program in detail.

Konrad’s keynote was followed by an excellent panel examining the Trinity at Sea. William Butler, Carnival Cruise Lines Vice President of Retail Services; Rene Riedi, Dufry’s Division CEO Latin America & Cruise; and Claudia Heskier-Schoenning, Swarovski VP Travel Retail & Global Accounts, represented the cruise line, the retailer and the brand respectively, discussing how the trinity can work together to elevate the cruise retail experience.

All three reiterated the importance of intelligence and data. Key take-aways from the panel were Dufry’s Riedi discussing the potential his company sees in this relationship-based retail; Heskier-Schoenning stressing the consumer-centric aspect of the channel and the need to share data –“we need patterns not excel sheets,”

she noted. Butler explained Carnival Cruises’ retail strategy of working with five different partners as a way for them to test different concepts.

Nadine Heubel, CEO of Heinemann Americas, spoke of supply-side logistics and gave an excellent overview of the challenges involved with delivering products onboard.

Clara Perez of m1nd-set presented the findings of an exclusive study on consumer trends in the cruise channel. IAADFS President and CEO Michael Payne and Mariana Stengl, JTI’s Worldwide Duty Free Corporate Affairs and Communications Manager, talked about legislation and regulations. Payne brought up his worry that “duty free” as an industry is facing a branding problem.

Creating memories is the key to building brands at sea, and using data to target their messages is part of this strategy,

agreed a panel made up of Michael McCarthy, Associate Vice President Onboard Revenue, Celebrity Cruises; Yannick Raynaud, Managing Director, L’Oreal Travel Retail Americas; and Christelle Caron, Key Accounts Director Cruise Lines, Moët Hennessy North America.

“For Celebrity [building memories] is in our DNA,” said McCarthy, discussing the importance of data to customize activities. “Cruise lines know more about our passengers, and should be able to target our message better. We know what is working and what isn’t.”

Ethos Farm Founder & CEO Sally Alington, in “The Crew Journey,” rounded out the first day’s conference presentations with another excellent discussion on staff training, and how important it is to have staff listen to the customer and turn this feedback into actionable insights.

The 2020 DFNI Cruise Conference is scheduled to take place June 7-9, 2020 in Barcelona, Spain.

Lois Pasternak