Princess Cruises' John Padgett on driving brand innovation

Carnival Corp. named its chief experience and innovation officer, John Padgett, president of Princess Cruises. A key player in the Princess MedallionClass and the Ocean platform that enables it, Padgett also spent 18 years with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts on the teams that created the MagicBand and FastPass+. He spoke with news editor Johanna Jainchill about how innovation adds value to vacations.

Q: Naming you president seems to signal a commitment to driving brand innovation at Princess.

A: I think it does. My focus in innovation has been the holistic guest experience and the whole operation in creating these intelligent smart cities, which you create so you have more information to drive greater guest experiences, as well as efficient crew operations. The leadership transition is going to be seamless. Jan Swartz [president of Holland America Group] and I have been partners since 2015, delivering MedallionClass to the entire fleet. There is a great business relationship there. We’ve been aligned on strategy for over six years now, and she’s intricately familiar with everything innovation, and I’m intricately familiar with everything operations. Expanding my view to include the operations and the marketing and sales base is really just a continuation of our efforts to make Princess a world-class cruise brand, world-class vacation brand and further our MedallionClass experience.

Q: You often talk about personalization being the future, something that’s been elusive on big ships in the past. What about now?

A: My mission has been to democratize elite guest service to everyone. MedallionClass is all about giving that highly personalized and hassle-free service to guests at scale. Personalized service is the root of cruise: That’s where cruising started. But as ships got larger and larger, they obviously started to lose that just by the nature of volume. That’s what the Medallion experience is all about: personalization at scale. Me being fortunate enough to achieve the leadership position at Princess shows that we’re going to keep on that track.

  • Related: Focus on Cruise: Getting personal

Q: You told Travel Weekly a few years back, “Everyone loves oceans. Not everyone loves to cruise.” Is this how you might market to noncruisers?

A: Absolutely. To me that ties back to being focused on the consumer. The cruise industry is actually very small, and any individual brand is even smaller within it. The consumer has unlimited brand choices, and every single minute of every single day every brand is competing for consumers’ attention in physical and digital spaces. If you’re sailing every year, a couple times a year or maybe every two years, that’s a lot of diversion of your attention. To me, it’s about making sure Princess is at the forefront of the consumer’s mind broadly and that cruising becomes a part of their natural lifestyle versus an episodic vacation. You have to be in that selection set all the time or you may be forgotten. 

Q: You’ve often said the innovations you’ve helped develop, at Disney and Princess, are about giving time back to vacationers. Why is that so important?

A: Time is priceless; vacation time is even more priceless. From my perspective, it’s really simple: How can you make the time guests are given on your vacation experience with your brand more valuable to them? If you can maximize their vacation time, you’re maximizing their value. If you’re maximizing their value, they’re going to commit to your brand and you’re going to have repeat visitation.

Q: Are there ways to innovate the way Princess works with the travel trade?

A: No doubt. Travel planners are key to cruise vacations because there are so many options of destinations and brands. Travel planners do an incredible job of making sure that the right guests get on the right brands. Travel planners are not transactional, they consult with guests to make sure they maximize the value of their vacation. That is a continuous relationship. I sell to you and then you tell me what you think when you get back. The travel planner is part of that entire lifestyle engagement in that brand and helping that consumer along the way, maximizing the value for the vacation. 

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