I have some thoughts on the Sea-Blazers Program. While I think it's great that Virgin is working on a way to promote brand loyalty, I can't help but feel very put-off by the way it's being rolled out. Many of us were whiplashed last week with all the unexpected cancellations. For me, that resulted in a deposit for a different cruise on another line to replace my canceled Valiant Lady cruise, along with a repricing of my flights and hotels because obviously the replacement dates didn't line up exactly. Then, I booked a replacement Virgin cruise for 2022. And that was all fine. Things happen, and it's Virgin's prerogative to make decisions necessary to keep their business (pardon the pun) afloat. I still have my 200% FCC that I've been rolling with and had no complaints about how I've been treated through this tough time.
But then, the announcement of the Sea-Blazers Program one week after that kerfuffle really ruffled my feathers. The way it's being presented feels like a rubbing of salt in the wound after what was admittedly for me a very disappointing announcement last week. That stance of "Sorry, we're canceling your cruise" followed this week by "Anyone who cruises with us during the time that your canceled cruise was scheduled for will get lifetime recognition" just burns me, especially when there wasn't a peep last week about the Sea-Blazers Program when I was shuffling all my travel plans around to make up for the cancellation.
Regarding the promotion itself, I understand that it's marketing-speak, another promotion with a unique "lifetime" benefit attached to it. When taking into account the normal bar tab deal available to everyone and any potential bonus bar tab promotion that may be going on at any given time, there isn't that much added value that would cause me to shuffle my plans again. And I certainly understand that Virgin might need to do whatever it can to fill its 2021 voyages, but I just don't get why this wasn't simply rolled out as another promotion to pull in some end-of-year bookings, without the loyalty component. The prestige being bestowed upon these bookings, with the "Sea-Blazer" mark of loyalty isn't a label to be taken lightly. We cruisers love our loyalty status, and this is Virgin's first stab at it, but why on Earth did they choose this set of parameters (compressed booking window) under these conditions (right after a major rift in existing customer bookings) to tie in a program that awards permanent loyalty status to those who happen to be able to fall into those tight conditions?
I'd challenge Virgin to ask itself who its loyalists are. Are they the people who might book because of a flashy promotion? Or are they the people who watched the steel-cutting livestream (buffering issues and all), coughed up a deposit, and rolled with the punches ever since? While we've been known by a few different descriptors in the past (early deposit program participants, VIPs, etc.), at this point we're just known as accountholders with a helluva lot of FCC in our accounts. But coupled with that monetary benefit, cruisers need to feel an emotional connection to the line(s) they frequent, and honestly I just don't feel special with Virgin anymore. Admittedly, it's difficult to maintain momentum and excitement amid so many stuttered starts and stops, but clearly Virgin has a talented marketing team that's capable of constantly rolling out innovative ways of engaging its customers. I'd just challenge them not to forget those of us whose sails may be a little worse for wear because of how long we've been waiting.