Skift Take

Celebrity Cruises is taking a risk by being the first cruise line to offer a ship tour in the metaverse. It's brave to publicly adopt new technology and adapt based on customer feedback. Being a first mover already makes the company a leader in that category.

Before booking a trip with Celebrity Cruises, potential customers can now explore a virtual version of the experience — an offering that the company expects is the beginning of a long journey expanding operations in the metaverse. 

Miami-based Celebrity Cruises just released a metaverse program that allows users to walk as avatars aboard a virtual replica of the brand’s latest ship, Celebrity Beyond. All users visiting the digital ship at the same time can see and interact with one another, and there is a designated meeting space within the platform. 

At this point, the main function of the platform is as a way to reach new audiences. The main customers targeted for this platform are those who are new to cruises or those who have never sailed with Celebrity, said Michael Scheiner, chief marketing officer for Celebrity Cruises.

“Everyone is welcome and invited to experience it. The target, though, I’d say is … people that haven’t experienced a cruise ship and so all they know is maybe what they’ve heard or read about, sometimes positive, sometimes negative,” Scheiner said. 

Basically a computer video game, the Wonderverse virtual world opens with the user driving a small boat to the cruise ship and boarding. From there, the user can choose to customize the avatar and then walk around the ship’s main deck, exploring amenities and talking to virtual versions of real people, like the ship’s captain, Kate McCue. The user can also play short games on the deck and explore the ship’s several destinations, where links are offered for direct booking. 

The Celebrity Cruises metaverse is powered by Surreal Events, a Georgia-based company founded in 2020 that designs metaverse worlds for companies in a variety of industries. The company’s flagship product was released in 2021. It was made using Unreal Engine, the platform owned by Epic Games that was also used to make the metaverse video game Fortnite. 

Josh Rush, co-founder and CEO of Surreal, said Celebrity Cruises is the first cruise line to release this type of metaverse experience, but there are others in the wider travel industry, like major hospitality brands, exploring this as a concept for their own companies. 

Surreal Events had previously built a digital replica in the metaverse of stadium Truist Park for the Atlanta Braves baseball team. The company also designed a multi-day Diwali celebration in the metaverse for Flipkart, the Walmart-owned shopping website based in India. Surreal is the process of raising capital to scale its business. 

The general metaverse is still in the early stages, though it has gone through a lot of development over the last 12-18 months. Rush agrees that a societal move to the metaverse is inevitable, so the earlier a company can get started experimenting, the better. 

“We think that the metaverse will eventually be an interconnected web of these types of experiences that people build. Every company has a website; every company has a social media presence; every company will have a Metaverse as well,” Rush said.

“We know that this is where the future lies, so to be early and to pioneer is important, both for brand and impression, but also for testing and validating for understanding what’s going to work.” 

Just the First Step

Celebrity’s current use of the platform as a marketing tool for potential customers is in line with a greater trend that tourism professionals are seeing. 

Susan Black, a tourism industry veteran who most recently was chief commercial officer of CIE Tours International, believes virtual tours are increasingly being used by people interested in taking a trip as a kind of try-it-before-you-buy-it. That’s what she has seen at the virtual experiences company she founded, Wowzitude, and that’s what other virtual experience platforms, like Heygo, are seeing as well. 

“Those that just want to sample: Before I go and spend a fortune going to Portugal, let me see what it’s like, let me be interactive and talk to the guides,” Black said. 

But for Celebrity Cruises, this offering is just the first phase of what it expects will be a multi-phase adoption of operations in the metaverse, Scheiner said. 

The Celebrity platform as it exists is somewhat limited in what can be explored on the ship. And depending on how many users are visiting, the crowd could be sparse, which would not be the case on a fully booked trip. 

Short term, the platform may get virtual versions of the other Celebrity cruise ships and more information about the destinations and excursions offered, Scheiner said. Customers may later get the ability to see bedrooms and more within the ship

Long term, this could evolve into being an e-commerce platform used to drive revenue for the company, he said.

Celebrity is gathering a lot of data over the next couple of months to learn what customers do and do not like about the platform and what they want to see in the future. Regardless of how that data looks, Scheiner said the company is convinced that the metaverse is where the future of travel is headed. 

“Because it hasn’t been done before, we have a lot of assumptions, but we don’t even have a benchmark we can use,” Scheiner said. 

“There isn’t, that I’m even aware of, something like this that exists in travel in general. So there’s a lot for us to learn and understand. Long term, the opportunity for where this could go truly is endless.”

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Tags: celebrity cruises, marketing, metaverse, startups, tourism, tourism marketing, travel tech, travel technology

Photo credit: Visitors of the virtual Celebrity Beyond ship can walk on its main deck in the metaverse. Celebrity Cruises

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