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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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.