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Brand Leadership

Martin van der Merwe, Manager, VIP Marketing Services, Carnival Corporation & plc

Brand Leadership

As the manager of VIP marketing services at Carnival Corporation since 2015, Martin van der Merwe touches more players from and in more places than perhaps any other player development professional in gaming. Van der Merwe’s serendipitous path from celebrity dealer to global host is overshadowed only by his passion for the industry and the players and brand he serves.

Based in the Miami/Fort Lauderdale, Florida area, van der Merwe reports directly to Carnival’s senior vice president, global casino operations, as global head of all customer engagement, including online, interactive, e-commerce, mobile, social, content, CRM and analytics, and sales across Carnival’s B2C and B2B business operations. Strategic relationships with land-based partners are a cornerstone of van der Merwe’s business development strategy. But his “territory” includes over 100 shipboard casinos under the Carnival Cruise Line, Princess Cruises, Holland America Line, Seabourn, Cunard and four other brands. Needless to say, van der Merwe is always on the go, leading a team of more than 100 in the execution of marketing efforts, customer engagement strategies, and activities and events across a multitude of nationalities, languages and cultures.

Van der Merwe did not arrive in his role accidentally. As a dealer for casinos in South Africa, he entered the annual dealer competition held at the ICE gaming conference in London in 2005, where he placed second in the world. Upon his return to South Africa, van der Merwe decided to go shipboard, joining a South African cruise ship company for six months before moving to Holland America, which would eventually be acquired by Carnival. He spent the next nine months dealing across 54 ports of call in 18 countries. As he developed professional relationships with players, his interests gravitated to marketing and player development. By 2008, van der Merwe was focused on marketing, and he played a large role in player retention during the cruise industry’s struggle through the Great Recession.

Emerging with the economy and a renewed enthusiasm by consumers for cruising, van der Merwe’s career exploded, coinciding with the convergence of traditional gaming operations and customer relationships, as well as new technologies and digital and social marketing platforms. He has leveraged Carnival’s access to a wide customer base to develop some of the most progressive marketing platforms in the industry today.

Through van der Merwe’s impressive professional journey, he has developed a keen appreciation for the value of brands, and for Carnival’s brands in particular. The icing on the cake for van der Merwe is the Carnival team, who he considers a family, and the company’s culture. Through his relationships, experiences and dedication, he embodies the best of what we all consider important in gaming leadership.

Michael Soll is president of the Innovation Group, the industry's premier consulting and advisory firm. One of gaming and hospitality's most recognizable brand specialists, Soll's experience includes senior-level management positions with such organizations as Caesars Entertainment, Hard Rock Café International and Starwood Hotels & Resorts. He can be reached at the Innovation Group's Orlando office at 407-702-6648 or at msoll@theinnovationgroup.com.

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