5 Things Broadway can learn from the cruise industry!

Last week, I kidnapped my staff and took them on our yearly retreat.  Last year we went deep into the natural wonder of Mohonk Mountain.  This year?  We took a weekend cruise to the Bahamas!  (Note to self – the Bahamas are much warmer than Mohonk.)

We spent three days digging through the last twelve months of what we’ve done and talking about the next twelve months and where we want to be.  Oh, and yes, we laid in the sun, ate at a lot of buffets and talked about which members of the staff had tattoos (they were all shocked when I admitted that I had one too).

Of course, as I wandered from deck to deck trying to find my (tiny) stateroom, I couldn’t help but notice a few things that Broadway could learn from this multi-billion dollar industry.  And now I’m going to share them with you (and the IRS so they don’t give me any crap for deducting a cruise).

1.  Having fun?  Then come back.  Here’s how.

About 3-5 times per cruise day, I was served an impression on the boat with an offer to book my next cruise and save $500.  The cruise industry knows that if I’m on the boat, I’m probably having a good time.  And they want to capitalize on that positive sentiment.  Boy oh boy do I wish we could sell tickets to our shows at intermission even . . . never mind after the show.  Or what about selling ticket gift cards at the merch booth?  (That’s probably the easiest solution to action.)   Passion for a product is at its highest when the customer is enjoying that product.  So we should give them a chance to buy it again for themselves, or for others.

2.  Want Some Insurance With Your Order?

Everyone, and I mean everyone, living in 2016 is busy.  There are 8 year olds out there with a more packed Google calendar than mine.  And that means plans change, a lot.  The cruise industry recognizes this and offers you insurance to change your plans . . . subject to a small fee, of course.  Offering ticket insurance for our customers would be a great way to reduce the fear of making such an expensive commitment so far in advance.  And we might make a few bucks in the process.

3.  Don’t Worry, Everyone is Happy.

When we stepped on the gangplank, we were greeted by a Julie McCoy-like cruise director and her staff.  And you’d think they’d mainlined a rainbow they were so excited to see us!  But it didn’t stop there.  Every single staff member on that boat from the cabin stewards to the bartenders to the guys and gals who “swab the deck” said hello to me, asked me if I was having fun, wished me a pleasant day, and offered to help me find my stateroom.  Customer service on Broadway has improved over the last few years, but I wouldn’t mind injecting our theater staff with some of that cruisin’ energy.

4.  Food, Glorious Food.

People effin’ love food.  And our days are actually built around meals.  They are the tent poles of our schedule.  Cruises take eating to the extreme because they understand how much people love to eat and how great eating experiences enhance everything also around those experiences.  What does this have to do with us?  No, I’m not suggesting that Broadway becomes dinner theater . . . but we can do a lot more promotions with our sister industry, the restaurants.  Dinner and a show is a cliché for a reason.  If your show isn’t partnering with restaurants in your area, then you’re ignoring one of the major components of the theatergoing experience for your audience.

5.  Want To See How We Steer The Ship?

You know what I said most often while on the ship?  No, it was not, “Where is my @#$%ing stateroom???”  That was second.  My most common uttered phrase was, “How the @#$% are we staying afloat?”  Well, wouldn’t you know it, not only did the cruise offer to explain the science of how a mega ton ship floats, but they offered to give me a tour of the bridge.  They pulled back the curtain to show me the wizards that steered this mammoth vessel and parked it in the port like it was a Hyundai.  If you know someone in our industry, you might, might be able to get a backstage tour.  Why are we so private about it?  Every show should offer this to its audience.  There is nothing like a little education and understanding to turn a fan into a superfan.  (Oh, and BTW, it’s all about water displacement apparently . . . although I still like to think there were a bunch of Daryl Hannah-like mermaids holding us up from the bottom.)

The cruise industry exists solely for people to have a good time.  That’s it.  And that means it could vanish in an instant (and especially in an economic downturn).  That’s why its marketing has to be on point.  And that’s why we can learn a lot from it.  Although we’re not as vulnerable in my opinion (we are entertainment and art), theatergoing would be and has been one of the first things cut from a family budget when things are tight.

Ever taken a cruise?  Anything you remember that we could learn from?

 

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Comments
  • Carvanpool says:

    Don’t forget all the exploited non-Union labor. Think of all the additional profits to be had by knocking out unions!

    Come on, you know you want to!

  • Also remember all’s not always lovey-dovey on “The Love Boat”! But enduring the rocky times and pulling through to a happy ending makes it all worthwhile! The same can be said for Broadway and life in general!

  • Unfortunately, I did not do my homework.
    Rule #1 Always do your homework.

    We were desperate to get away some place warm and have a good time.
    Rule #2 Never let desperation drive you.

    We took a Carnival Cruise.
    Rule #3 Never take a Carnival Cruise.

    Everything was “pretend” what it was supposed to be, from the
    rubber lobster tail to the horrid “gaming center” that was so
    unutterly depressing I won’t even describe it.
    Rule #4 Make sure that you can deliver exactly what you offer, not less, not
    different, not substandard.

    The stewards were knocking themselves out to get a “big tip” at the end of the
    trip. They were obsequious more than friendly, oppressive with their stories of
    their poverty back home and how long it had been since they’d seen their children.
    Rule #5 Never patronize a sweat shop, even if it looks like a cruise ship.
    Never run a sweat shop, even if you don’t think you can “make it” otherwise.

  • Elizabeth says:

    I’m going to disagree with part of #3. I don’t think customer service has improved on Broadway. We attend between 8-12 Broadway shows per year and more often than not, we get to deal with crabby box office personnel that seem like they hate their job, ticket scanners who treat you like you are coming back to your cell after being in the yard, and indifferent ushers. It’s like being at the airport without getting a body scan. Once you get past all the irritation, the end of result is almost always worth it, but getting their is not a lot of fun. I will congratulate your team on their excellent customer service though – I bought group tickets through Your Broadway Genius this year instead of Telecharge, and the communication and overall experience was far superior.

    • Solange says:

      Absolutely agree with Elizabeth. Staff at Broadway theaters act like you’re lucky you’re being allowed to shell out your $100+ for a ticket. Audience members seem to be bothering them when they obviously want to be somewhere else. Worst experience: Richard Rodgers Theater.

      • Jared W says:

        I gotta agree about the Richard Rodgers Theatre staff. I get that they probably deal with a lot of obnoxious behavior from people who feel entitled to do whatever they want because of the cost of the ticket, but there’s no reason to take it out on the rest of us.

  • Reading number 3 I remember the fun chat my friends and I had with the guy of the store in the “Forbiden Broadway” theater. Two years ago. Versus a very bad experience with the people in the Matildayears theater. Smiling and being happy helps a lot to the experience!!

  • Joanna White says:

    As in first-night Captain’s Cocktail Party on cruises, or resorts: a half-hour premium pre-show ‘getting-to-know-you’ package offering cocktail and canapés in an ante-room or roped-off area in foyer. Objective: meet, talk with like minds. Maybe even meet after show for supper.

  • Ricky says:

    I remember going on a cruise when I was a child. For dinner, I thought it was weird that we had to eat at a certain time and table with a bunch of strangers. That night, for dessert, I ordered chocolate and told the head waiter that was my favorite. Every night after that, the waiters wouldn’t take my order for dessert. They just brought me anything that they could find with chocolate in it. They literally customized my experience and I was in heaven. Think about that, Ken!

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Ken Davenport
Ken Davenport

Tony Award-Winning Broadway Producer

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