Regent Seven Seas is roaring through Wave Season with a host of unprecedented maneuvers sure to make ripples through the entire cruise industry. The luxury line’s first-ever Regent Seven Seas Council, January 10–13, in Los Angeles, was a big hit with the 61 invited agencies and 10 national accounts, whose thresholds had to reach $600,000 in Regent sales.
We feel that Regent has made several brave moves, which not only will spur bookings, but better reward travel agents. In an about-face, the line will begin paying commissions on previously non-commissionable entities, such as port taxes and government fees. Air and spa remain the only non-commissionable fees, but the move has struck a loving chord with agents, who hope other lines will make the move to a more inclusive commission structure.
The news came on the heels of Regent’s previous announcement to offer free excursions on 35 voyages in 2009 and on all voyages in 2010. In the luxury cruise market, these moves aren’t only unprecedented, but revolutionary, and, well, intelligent. Instead of debasing the product by offering discounted rates, Regent has taken the smart tack of adding better perks and value, which make sense to a consumer. Shore excursions, for instance, can be pricey; now they are complimentary. Also, why wouldn’t agents want to sell more Regent, particularly if it means they will be making more money? The genius lies in the simplicity. “If you don’t have a happy sales force,” said Frank Del Rio, chairman of Prestige Cruise Holdings, Regent’s and Oceania’s parent corporation, “prospects for the future aren’t good.”
Luxury Travel Advisor had the rare opportunity to shadow Del Rio as we toured Seven Seas Voyager, which had just emerged from a $20 million drydock and was preparing to disembark on its world cruise. At the Council sessions, Del Rio said, one of the most pressing concerns by travel advisors was the prospect of “Oceania-ing” the Regent product. Without equivocation, Del Rio was quick to assure that this was not the case. “We didn’t spend $1 billion to acquire Regent and change it,” he said, insisting that both brands—Regent and Oceania—will stay and operate separately.
If there’s any indication about Regent’s new moves, business has picked up since January 5. “We are seeing positive trends,” said Ken Watson, Regent’s executive vice president, noting that booking windows have, indeed, shrunk. The move toward free excursions were a test to drive business and add value instead of discounting.
It’s also a way for agents to stay more engaged with potential clients and stave off cancellations, which have increased since the dire economic fallout from September.
While many businesses have looked to scale back spending, Regent will spend twice as much on marketing this quarter than normal. As evidence, high-traffic sites, such as nytimes.com, are rife with Regent banner ads. That said, this year and next will be tough operating environments. “Our focus for 2009 is on survival,” said Del Rio. “We probably won’t get back to 2008 yields (Regent’s best year ever with regard to profits and sales) until 2011.”
Or they might get there sooner if the ships are any indication. Voyager’s refurb consisted of new carpeting throughout, culinary upgrades and other touches spread across the stunning luxe vessel, such as a new color scheme and chaise lounges for the pool area. Probably the best part of Voyager is that it looks like a luxury ship built for the modern era, with clean sharp lines and an easy-to-get-around layout. Most striking is the new Prime 7 steakhouse, which replaces the Indochine restaurant Latitudes. Expect generous slabs of USDA Prime and seafood choices, too, such as a two-pound Maine lobster. Inviting brown leather chairs and a glass wine cellar against the far wall provide that New York-steakhouse feel.
A new coffee bar with a full-time barista called Coffee Connection was also added, similar to what is already on Seven Seas Mariner, which also received upgrades during a drydock last month. Seven Seas Navigator is due to drydock in 2010.