Susan Young was onboard the Crystal Serenity for Crystal Cruises' Top Producers Gala, and she got the latest news about the cruse line and the industry. Here's here latest report.
Agents and travel professionals dance the night away aboard the Crystal Serenity at Crystal Cruises Top Producers Gala
Agents can expect lots of hoopla as Crystal Cruises unveils its 20th anniversary commemoration in 2010. Look for exclusive anniversary events added to two cruises that occur on July 20, 2010, the line’s official birthday date.
In addition, agents and their clients will discover special anniversary events and programming on the President’s cruise from Dubai to Athens as well as on the annual Crystal Society cruise, which will be renamed the Crystal Society Reunion cruise for the anniversary year; that latter cruise will feature both a history element and the chance for guests to interact with beloved original crew members.
The line’s “Celebration” fares currently in effect for bookings this year also will be renamed “Anniversary” fares and will continue to apply to voyages throughout 2010 (if booked by December 31, 2009). As a result of that and other incentives, including the line’s “As You Wish” program, officials say a Crystal voyage in 2010 will actually be less expensive than in 2006.
It seems difficult to imagine that just 20 years ago Crystal was simply a line on the drawing board. Owned by Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK), the largest shipping company in the world, Crystal began as a cruise line with just one ship, Crystal Harmony; that vessel has since left the fleet and now sails for NYK’s Japanese cruise operation.
Today, Crystal’s fleet is often described by agents as a big-ship luxury line. It currently operates the Crystal Symphony and the larger Crystal Serenity. Crystal guests are highly loyal. In fact, 50 percent of all guests who come onboard a Crystal cruise book their next cruise while onboard— with agents who booked those clients receiving the booking credit and commission.
Front Row: Corrine Ng, VP of strategic partnerships for American Express, with husband Bill Duffy and Ruth Turpin of Cruises Etc. Back Row: Peter Lloyd and Eugene Lashley of Century Travel
Family Group Market
The biggest growth in Crystal’s luxury customer base is coming from the family group market, according to Bill Smith, Crystal’s senior vice president of sales and marketing. Even in a tough economic year, this trend has good sales potential for those agents eager to develop new business, he notes. Clients might say “we’re not going to buy that car this year, but you’re not going to take away that [family vacation] experience,” stresses Smith.
Smith says the line is working to assure both Crystal Society guests whose children may be grown (and don’t want to interact with any children onboard) to have a great experience. Smith says the key to keeping both groups happy is simple. “I don’t care how big or small your ship is, you have to space for them and programs for them,” Smith stresses. Crystal typically can accommodate up to 180 children on any one cruise.
Crystal’s Family Memories program will assist agents booking family groups, and that program continues through 2010. Among the perks? Client groups receive one berth free for every 10 full fare guests; prepaid gratuities; an additional $100 per person onboard credit for maximum of two guests per stateroom; third berth “kids sail free” program for those 17 and under; a $500 credit when a Crystal Private Adventure of $2,500 is booked; and a group family photo.
Serenity’s Pod Situation
Crystal Serenity’s 2009 World Cruise was slowed a bit earlier this year— with a few ports eliminated— due to an unexpected problem with an electrical short in coils within a propulsion pod, according to Gregg Michel, the line’s president. Mechanics came onboard at various ports and completed repairs.
But Crystal Serenity’s top speed of 21 knots is now a maximum of 19.5 knots. So a new propulsion pod is now under construction and will be installed in 20 months or so. Until the pod is ready, Michel says Crystal will adapt to the slightly reduced speed.
Michel said it should cause only minor tweaks in pre-announced schedules. For example, the only change to the upcoming 2010 World Cruise is the elimination of one overnight stay in Buenos Aires— keeping the call to just a day before the ship heads to Africa.
Martha Antoinette Koszutski and Neriton Vasconcelos of Pier1 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, along with Alexandra Don, vice president of onboard guest services for Crystal Cruises
Exotic World Cruise
Crystal spent much time at the trade gala detailing features for the 108-day World Cruise that departs January 10, 2010. The voyage encompasses 41 ports in 37 countries. The itinerary includes South America, Africa and India, with a greatly expanded focus on the Arabian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Black Sea, and several European ports in the Mediterranean Sea en route to London.
Among the highlights are a return to Africa with multiple overland safari options; a visit to Herod’s Tomb in Israel; and exotic port calls within Saudia Arabia and Iran. For the Iranian port call, guests will be able to visit the ancient ruins of Persepolis; as a result, that unusual segment is now the most heavily booked of all 2010 World Cruise segments.
Matthew Upchurch, CEO of Virtuoso, asked Crystal about how the visa situation would work for guests. John Stoll, Crystal’s director of land programs, reported that the line will secure group visas for calls at Saudia Arabia and Iran— much as the line does now for its calls in Russia. Clients must be booked on a Crystal Cruises’ official shore trip in those countries to go ashore. Similar to policies at some other Arab states, guests may be denied entry if they have an Israeli stamp in their passport; some guests are ordering new passports without such a stamp.
While on tour in Saudia Arabia, female guests will be required to wear a form of traditional Saudi Islamic dress— which the line will provide to guests for the shore visit. The World Cruise segment that includes Iran also is expected to offer an overnight land program option with visits to several Iranian cities including possibly Tehran; guests will then likely rejoin the ship in Kuwait.
Crystal officials stressed that guests could be assured the luxury line was dealing with appropriate government agencies on complex security issues. In Saudia Arabia, for example, guests will be tracked across the country “all for our security and guest safety,” said Stoll. In addition, he said extra precautions were being taken by Crystal behind the scenes to assure the highest level of safety and security.
Noting the extremely strong booking interest in this segment, Crystal’s Michel asked the top producers what they thought about this itinerary. Some agents were highly excited about the exotic itinerary and said guest interest was very high.
Mary Jean Tully, chairman and CEO of The Cruise Professionals said “people are quite excited about going, but just want to be sure Crystal is not going to cancel” this segment. She says the clients like the itinerary a lot, but want to know if they have the option of selecting another itinerary if for any reason Crystal would change the itinerary to different ports.
A few other agents, however, were disappointed or upset given the political situation in the Middle East. One agent told the group she was the daughter of Holocaust survivors and was truly upset over the decision by Crystal to offer any segment with an Iranian port call. Another— Sally Goldwasser, president of Unique Travel of Palm Beach, FL— said the marketplace reality is that her Jewish clients simply will not book this segment.
Gulf of Aden Security
For a 2010 Dubai to Athens cruise on Crystal Symphony, Gregg Michel will host a President’s Cruise— which includes a transit through the Gulf of Aden. So he tackled the agents’ security questions related to piracy. Michel said Crystal is in close touch with international authorities related to security in the region. He also stressed that the area in which the ship will sail to reach the Suez Canal is being carefully patrolled by international security forces. Many of the recent piracy problems have occurred far from that zone as a result.
Finally, Michel also said pirates typically target slower cargo vessels and have been, frankly, unsuccessful at boarding any ship that sails at more than 15 knots. He said Crystal would continue to monitor conditions closely and that Crystal Symphony just completed a successful and uneventful transit through the area a few days ago.