One on One with Lisa Bauer, President and CEO, Starboard Cruise Services, Inc.

Reframing the cruise retail experience in a post-COVID world


Amidst the slowdown and uncertainty facing the cruise industry as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, Starboard Cruise Services is focusing on reframing onboard guest engagement for when cruising returns.

Lisa Bauer

Starboard President and CEO Lisa Bauer talked to TMI about how Starboard will adapt to new requirements and consumer preferences for its onboard retail programs, from developing more omni-channel options to tailoring offerings to accommodate specific plans with each cruise partner, while the industry works to regain the trust of passengers.

    For the past few years, Starboard has been enhancing its emphasis on luxury. Being part of the Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, Starboard has entre to some of the top luxury brands in the world. But in today’s environment, the concept of luxury has evolved to a broader, more holistic concept, says Bauer.

New concept of Luxury

“Today’s definition of luxury continues to include very special brands and products, while incorporating the dimensions of access, time, personalization, and experience,” she explains.

“Luxury, as an experience, creates more authentic and memorable interactions – which Starboard delivers to guests for our cruise partners. This could range from something ‘money can’t buy’ to a simpler notion of something special worth a consumer’s precious time.”

When it comes to brands and products, Starboard, as part of leading luxury provider LVMH, has access to sought-after global brands with top design, investment pieces, and craftsmanship. Another unique aspect of cruise retail is the opportunity to bring on artisanal luxury limited time experiences that tie in to the destinations, says Bauer.

“These are truly unique and special – whether it’s hand crafted sandals, textiles local to the area, or one of a kind jewelry creations,” she adds.

In terms of access and time as part of the new luxury, Bauer notes that Starboard has seen very positive feedback when it offers guests special access (for example to cruise line loyalty program members or guests celebrating a special occasion).

“In a post COVID-19 shopping experience, we expect offering private shopping appointments will also be a well-received service.”

Personalization, Sustainability and Wellness

Personalization could also become even more appealing when cruising resumes again.

“Personalization could be custom blend fragrances or it may be the 1:1 service experience where our onboard staff get to know guests by name over the course of their cruise and develop a relationship that contributes to the guest’s overall vacation experience,” says Bauer.

Without a doubt, sustainability and wellness have emerged as very important trends to consumers worldwide.  “We are developing offerings that would be particularly desirable to luxury shoppers. Also, the new passenger experience will involve various elements such as contactless shopping options, enhanced sanitation of shops and expanded wellness retail offerings.”

Product activations – from tastings to special events –that are such an important part of the Starboard retail strategy could undergo significant changes in a post COVID-19 world.

Fast-tracking digital

“Interactive experiential activations will be fundamentally different and modified to accommodate cruise partners’ guidelines,” Bauer explains. “We believe the advancement of onboard offerings and experiences will involve the introduction of a sophisticated omni-channel retail approach. A fully integrated approach will enhance guest’s overall vacation shopping experience and make for a seamless unified guest experience.”

As a result, the development of more advanced digital retail offerings has been fast-tracked, as Starboard sees an opportunity to bring existing retail tech to sea. These include contactless retail, such as stateroom delivery and AR/VR shopping integrations, for example virtual “try on” mirrors for categories like Cosmetics and Sunglasses.

“We are focusing on reframing the onboard guest engagement through an omni-channel lens. Leveraging the latest digital tech, Starboard is setting the stage for a reimagined, immersive and personalized onboard shopping experience, says Bauer. “Another benefit of being part of LVMH is that we get to work closely with our sister Maisons, sharing best practices, aligning with corporate protocols and participating in initiatives to engage our employees such as training and development, corporate social responsibility and diversity & inclusion.”

While it is difficult to see how some of the onboard events such as tastings, gatherings and “game shows” that involve close interactions will continue, Bauer says that new measures will most likely be implemented for onboard activities with more focus on health and safety, incorporating limited crowd capacity, guest flow, etc.

“We’re collaborating with each of our cruise lines partners to plan for ways we can continue to provide guest engagement. Times like these spur innovations; every-one is seeing through a fresh lens. We’re evaluating every aspect of the shopping experience and creating new ideas and offerings that will excite and engage cruise line guests before, during and after their voyages.

“As we continue working closely with our cruise partners on new initiatives to rebuild guest confidence and trust, our relation-ships have grown stronger and more in sync than ever before,” she says.

“We believe people will have a greater appreciation for travel and retail including preserving their cruising experiences through shopping and taking home mementos reflective of their journey and destinations.”                       

 Lisa Bauer

President & CEO

Starboard Cruise Services, Inc.