Princess Cruises this week is expected to unveil an e-mail campaign alerting customers and others about the site (www.princess.com).
The campaign is expected to include some 100,000 e-mails, 50,000 to people who have cruised with Princess previously and another 50,000 to people the cruise line has identified as potential customers.
Princess would not comment on the e-mail marketing campaign.
It makes sense to target potential customers in the worldwide cruise business, estimated at $10 billion in 1998 by Brian Egger, an analyst with Donaldson, Lufkin & Jenrette.
"Cruising is still something only 11% of the population has done," said Fran Golden, cruise editor of Travel Weekly. "If you can put out your product on the Web and get people to look at your product, it puts it in front of their eyes."
CHANGE IN THINKING
Colin Veitch, Princess' senior VP-marketing, said the cruise line decided several years ago to use marketing dollars on more traditional ads to reach customers, whose age averages 58. That meant forgoing a Web site, but Princess has changed its mind.
"We don't have limitless budgets, nobody does," he said. "We took the view a while ago that we were better served by the other things we were doing and I think that was true at the time [but] the use of the Internet has exploded."
In the future, Princess may use e-mail to alert people about discount-price cruises, similar to what airlines do for cheaper weekend fares. It might also use e-mail to promote new ship amenities and when ships will be leaving for destinations customers have visited before.
In recent years, Web sites have become a near-staple of running a cruise business. All 23 members of the Cruise Lines International Association have established Web sites; most include information on itineraries and onboard amenities.
"The travel and tourism industry is doing a better job than a lot of other industries in terms of [marketing themselves online]," said Michele Slack, an analyst covering online advertising for Jupiter Communications, New York. "Much of travel is being booked online now."
AMONG THE LAST TO GO ONLINE
Los Angeles-based Princess, considered the third-largest behind Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises, was one of the last cruise lines to go online. The company expanded marketing to the Web last September with a live Webcast of the christening of the Grand Princess and launched a site devoted solely to that ship.
The fleetwide site set sail in March. Mr. Veitch said BridgeCams on all nine ships will be available soon, but declined to say when. He said 10,000 visitors a day spend about half their time, an average of 29 minutes, with BridgeCam.
"It's like an added-value brochure," said Noah Vadnai, a content director at Kaufman Patricof Enterprises, a New York interactive agency that designed the site.
Mr. Veitch said Princess soon will let travel agents book cruises via the site, but not direct customer booking. "We think it would be a very unwise thing to do to lose the confidence of [travel agents, who account for] 98% of our inventory."
No. 1 Carnival allows online booking for all ships. A smaller player, Renaissance Cruises, is the only line that actually promotes its direct online booking, said Ms. Golden.