Lisa Lutoff-PerLo, President & Chief exeCutive offiCer, CeLebrity Cruises
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, President and Chief Executive Officer, Celebrity Cruises, tells Can Faik of her pride in watching the brand grow and prosper as it welcomes guests from all over the world…
Celebrity Cruises’ iconic ‘X’ is the mark of modern luxury, with its cool, contemporary design. Their 13 ships offer modern luxury holidays visiting all seven continents. Celebrity Cruises is one of five cruise brands operated by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.
What does your current position involve?
My primary responsibility as President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises is to generate superior shareholder value. When I was appointed to this position, I thought a great deal about how I would go about doing that in the most powerful way.
As President and CEO of Celebrity Cruises, I oversee a fleet of 13 (soon to be 14) ships, sailing with over a million guests around the world to more than 300 port destinations on every continent. I never know what any given day will look like as each day is as unique as our guests and crew.
I work with an amazing team of professionals who are dedicated and committed to continually elevating our modern luxury brand and experience so that we can generate demand for our brand to an affluent traveller who cares about and wants to experience what we offer. With four more Edge series coming over the next few years that is extremely important.
I also lead RCCL’s Global Marine Organisation, ensuring that the corporation’s $27-billion-dollar fleet of 51 ships run safely, smoothly and efficiently across all RCL brands for over 6 million guests per year.
My position brings with it an opportunity to bring others along with me. I’ve made it a part of my mission to champion women in the maritime industry and am a proud advocate for diversity and inclusion of all kinds. I hired the first female American captain, the first female African bridge officer and the first female Ecuadorian captain. I am so proud to share that our new Galapagos ship, Celebrity Flora, will launch into the market with a bridge team that is 50/50 men and women.
You’ll be celebrating five years in December since you started this role and 34+ years with Royal Caribbean, what has been your proudest moment so far, as I know you spearheaded a number of cruise firsts and a number of new classes of ship?
As you can imagine, a career that has spanned over 34 years has been special and I have experienced MANY special moments. But there are two that stand out and are at the top of the list (so far). The launch and introduction of Celebrity Edge is tremendously gratifying that so many in the press and trade have described Celebrity Edge as ‘game changing’ as we truly set out to transform Celebrity and the industry as well as the way people perceive cruising – it is unlike anything that’s ever been offered on the high seas and I am incredibly proud of that. But to have others so enthusiastically welcome and describe Edge exactly how we intended exceeded every expectation we had – and those expectations were very high. Accomplishing this in one’s career is very special indeed.
And the second proudest moment was walking into the Celebrity Theater for the naming ceremony for Celebrity Edge beside Nobel Peace Laureate who was the godmother of Celebrity Edge. Having her on our stage as an incredible inspiration to the audience, our crew, and our guests around the world was a moment I will never forget. As our Chairman, Richard Fain, has said many times, “Malala is an honest to God hero.” The audience response to her gave us all goosebumps, was quite an emotional moment, and restored my faith in humanity.
I would also like to mention how proud I am to run a brand and to be part of an industry that is the epitome of diversity and inclusion. I am even more proud that at Celebrity, my team and I lead the charge in so many areas and embrace and champion diversity of all kinds, and in particular the focus on improving gender equality on our brand.
Early on in my role, I committed to raising the ratio of men/women onboard the bridge of our ships. It was 3% when I began, and I am proud to say that we are now up to 23% across our fleet.
Celebrity Cruises is the first cruise line to have three female captains, starting with Captain Kate McCue who was the first female Captain for Celebrity and the first ever American female captain of a cruise ship. In addition, we are taking the lead in making changes where we can to make it easier to hire from all over the world, including from the Ghana Maritime Academy, and we are proud to have hired the first West African woman to ever work on the bridge of a cruise ship, Nicholine Tifuh-Azirh who joined Celebrity Cruises almost two years ago and is living her dream of working onboard of Celebrity Edge.
What are the most challenging issues you are facing within your current role?
The cruise industry continues to see an incredible amount of growth which is terrific. Even though that is the case, I would like to see the day that I have been waiting for during my 34 years in this business and that is for people to stop saying ‘Cruising is not for me’. It is unequivocally the best vacation and way to see the world – especially on Celebrity!
But to answer your question regarding the most challenging issues, those are the issues outside of our control. geo-political, regulatory issues that continue to change, and global issues including the strength of the economies around the world.
What are Celebrity Cruises’ unique selling points?
We are very fortunate that about six-seven years ago we identified a unique position within the industry – modern luxury. We are elegant, sophisticated, but comfortable and approachable. We are beautiful boutique hotels that take our guests around the world. We focus on and continually strengthen five key ‘pillars’ of experiences and how we deliver them that are unique to us. Design, Destination, Culinary, Accommodations and Service. The seamless integration of these pillars into our award-winning cruise vacations is a testament to the hard work of every person in our team around the world.
The feedback from our guests is that they agree, and the almost 200 awards we received last year is validating and encouraging to us that we are doing the right things. We also continue to see significant improvement in our Net Promoter Scores, which are, among, if not the highest in the industry.
How important is interior design within your cruise ships?
Extremely important. Always has been. As I stated earlier, our ships are boutique hotels that sail to seven continents. However, we took that important pillar and truly amplified it when we were designing Celebrity Edge and brought in a group of world-renowned designers to transform the way cruise ships are designed and truly solidify our position as the leader in cruise ship design.
Celebrity Edge has taken the cruise industry by storm, transforming how people perceive ship design. The designers and architects we selected helped us create a ship like no other. Kelly Hoppen MBE designed the staterooms, suites, the Retreat and the Spa. Tom Wright (architect of the Burj Al Arab) brought his incredible architectural approach to create the Magic Carpet, the Resort deck and the Rooftop Garden, whilst world-class hotel designer Partricia Urquiola, along with architect Scott Butler, created the most incredible venue, Eden, at the aft of the ship with the largest wall of glass at sea for guests to enjoy views of the ocean never seen before.
Celebrity Edge inspired us to modernise the rest of our fleet through an initiative we are calling ‘The Celebrity Revolution’. We have used the design inspiration from Edge to transform our entire fleet and are spending over $500m to do so. The Revolution will continue through 2023, with seven of our nine ships being modernised by the end of 2020.
Have you noticed any particular trends in interior design?
I think we all see some certain trends and they really vary. The great thing about design is that it is unique to everyone’s taste and there are so many options and great designers. What we look for at Celebrity is not just great design, but timeless design. We want our guests to be comfortable, not intimidated, so when we choose designers, it’s with this goal in mind. And for us, it’s all about the details. And Celebrity Edge is the most beautifully and finest designed ship ever built.
But don’t take my word for it. If you read the articles and headlines from the media and trade, you will see their reaction to Edge supports and delivered against what we were trying to achieve. And the reaction from our guests is further proof that we ‘nailed it’.
How important is choosing the right designer for each ship, or do you consider a creative director who oversees all your ships?
We have an industry leading internal team that oversees all of our ships. Harri Kulovaara is our EVP of New Build, and Kelly Gonzalez is our SVP of Design and Architecture. I have had the pleasure of working with them for decades. With their help and oversight, we are able to design our ships at the height of modern luxury and engage additional world-renowned architects and designers who help us continue to raise the bar and keep Celebrity at the leading edge (pardon the pun) of ship design.
Will you continue to use amazing hospitality designers as you have done with Patricia and Kelly on the Celebrity Edge?
Yes, we will. The Edge designers will continue to work with us on the rest of the Edge series and the Revolution program. We will bring in one or two more surprises as we design the third, fourth and fifth in the Edge series. We have found a winning formula that we will continue. So stay tuned. More to come!
Am I right in thinking Celebrity Edge was the first ship to use 3D technology at a design stage, and how did that work?
Yes, we are proud to say that Celebrity Edge is the first ship that was designed in 3D and revealed in 3D.
The entire innovative process has pushed us to challenge and reimagine what a cruise ship can be from top to bottom, inside and out. To achieve the level of quality we wanted guests to experience has required us to throw out the traditional model of ship design and start all over again.
It has given us the freedom to create something very special. Stepping in to ‘The Cave’ in our Innovation Lab [the 3D design suite at Celebrity Cruise’s Miami HQ] and putting on a VR headset to actually ‘walk’ through a venue and make changes before the ship was built made for not only a completely different design process, but helped eliminate mistakes before they might have been built, which in turn eliminates changes after the fact.
The other unique 3D approach we took with Celebrity Edge were 1:1 full scale mock ups so that we could literally walk through a space and see how it would be when fully built and if the space would work the way we hoped it would for our guests. We did this for spaces like Eden, the Grand Plaza, and Raw on 5, but also for features like the wall in the Solarium and the Cabanas on the Resort Deck.
A transformative feature on Celebrity Edge are the Infinite Verandas and how we engineered those is also an interesting story. For the ship to physically support the new Infinite Veranda staterooms, we had to rethink the engineering of Celebrity Edge, even moving the supporting spine of the vessel to accommodate this new vision. Our newbuild and architecture teams worked closely with the shipyard and architect Tom Wright to get the design and engineering just right.
Among many other challenges, the Infinite Veranda completely changes the exterior profile of Celebrity Edge. It easily could have ended up being attractive on the inside, but less so from the outside. However, that’s not the case. Tom has skilfully given the ship beautiful curved lines showcasing Celebrity Edge as both beautiful and unexpected.
What makes cruising so great?
Let me see. Where do I start? EVERYTHING! A holiday at sea has so many advantages. First of all, what better way is there to see the world than by sea? Entering and leaving a place by sea is magical and wondrous. That’s how the world was discovered, and that perspective can only be had when you take a cruise vacation. You also travel to and wake up in another country each day. But you do it comfortably by sea and on a cruise. No packing and unpacking. No going from airport to airport.
You have the chance to visit incredible destinations and discover a diversity of cultures in one trip. Our world is quite spectacular and meant to be explored and enjoyed. Our guests have the comforts of home while being pampered every step of the way.
What’s next for you and Celebrity Cruises over the next five years?
The launch of Celebrity Edge was just the beginning of our next chapter. We have the launch of Flora in May, the world’s first ship designed to complement the ecology of the Galapagos Islands. The brand new 100-guest Celebrity Flora, one of the most energy-efficient ships of its size, features anchorless technology that maintains the ship’s position while protecting the sensitive sea floor below. Innovative outward-facing design gives guests 360-degree views of the islands and their amazing wildlife. With only 50 suites, this is an incredible and intimate way to see one of the few remaining untouched parts of our world.
We will launch the second ship in the Edge-series, Celebrity Apex, in spring 2020. She will start her season out of Southampton, UK for the first few months of its European season. We then have four more Edge class ships due in the coming years, and in our desire to keep pushing the envelope, we will have further announcements along the way. We just signed a partnership with American Ballet Theater and Daniel Boulud to further strengthen our experience and modern luxury positioning.
On top of all of that we will continue with the Celebrity Revolution over the next three years to bring our existing fleet to the Edge.