Right now, far-flung cruise travel across the globe could seem akin to a page in history—something people did in the past, given the pandemic—not something for the present or future. But, not so fast…
“The demand that we’re seeing from our guests for long, exotic sailings has been incredible, especially when considering the environment,” Jason Montague, president and CEO, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, told Travel Agent recently. In fact, the ultra-luxury line’s lengthy 2023 World Cruises very quickly nearly sold out, with Montague’s perspective that luxury travelers are “chomping a bit” to get back out there sailing to exotic locales.
Overall, particularly looking at the last half of 2021 and beyond, “we’re seeing demand across the regions—including the Seven Seas Splendor in the Baltics and Northern Europe,” he noted, also citing strong bookings for the line’s remote "Grand Arctic" itinerary. Guests on this itinerary are true adventurers who desire to explore some of the most remote spots on Earth; that's "a testament to the luxury cruise space," said Montague, who adds: "It will be great to be able to relaunch.”
In 2021, Regent Seven Seas will position Seven Seas Explorer in Alaska for the first time. But that "Last Frontier" has an added benefit beyond just the bookings, he said: Some 75 percent of guests on future Alaska sailings are new to the brand, according to Montague.
One industry trend that Montague says has continued unabated even during this pandemic year is future multigenerational travel bookings. People with pent-up demand are eager to reconnect with family, Montague noted, adding that his line creates many customized packages with private excursions for families. That said, Regent Seven Seas provides 2,000-plus complimentary excursions across the globe for guests.
Going ashore, “active is definitely a trend,” said Montague, as is “Go Local” to immerse guests in what it’s actually like to live in the destination.
Overall, the pandemic may have disrupted cruise line operations this year, “we have very seasoned travelers,” said Montague. “They know how focused we are on safety protocols," pointing to work by the "Healthy Sail Panel,” the latter formed jointly by parent company Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) and Royal Caribbean Group.
“We wanted to make sure it wasn’t just the industry experts but [top-notch scientific and medical experts] that aren’t tied directly to us,” Montague stressed. “Having that independent panel pull together [to develop] this information definitely enhanced the process.”
The "Healthy Sail Panel" submitted its protocol recommendations to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on September 21, as did Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). What’s his perspective of waiting for timing on a CDC decision to lift the No Sail Order from U.S. ports? “We’re always hopeful,” he said, noting that when that does occur, the line will still need time to gear up for operations.”
Another trend in luxury cruising is the move into expedition cruising. Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea Cruises and others are either in that arena or readying to enter it with new expedition ships. Small, expedition-only lines are also building new ships.
So, will Regent Seven Seas dive into expedition cruising? Not at this point as “our focus is to be just the best in this one area:” ultra-luxury cruising, Montague said, noting that expedition cruising requires a different business/operational model: "We have no current plans."
In examining the furious pace of the expedition segment’s expansion, Montague wonders how the experience will unfold." If the goal is to create a pristine, one-with-nature experience, then “you can’t have multiple ships in the same area," he points out. "It will be interesting to see how it plays out.”
Crediting travel partners for the brand's success over the past 28 years, Montague emphasized that one sales opportunity for advisors with mass-market or premium clients desiring to step up to all-inclusive luxury is to create side-by-side comparisons.
“Look at the price point for those lines with similar size suites, then package everything in” whether that’s the cost of shore excursions, prepaid gratuities, airfare, drinks and so on, he suggests. When guests can see side-by-side what it really costs on this or that line, he believes that "it’s a no brainer” to step up to a more luxurious product. It's a win for our guests and a win for our travel partners," who earn more commission as there are more cruise fare inclusions.
The new Seven Seas Splendor, which debuted earlier this year, has lots of space for social distancing, one of the cruise industry's safety protocols.
Seasoned cruisers are eager to take their next voyage, and Montague believes his ships with humongous space ratios and lots of room to spread out in social distancing are a big plus. As pent-up demand grows, Montague confidently says: “Luxury is in a great position to capitalize on this."
Seatrade Goes Virtual
This past spring, Montague and other top cruise industry executives awaited the world's biggest annual maritime conference, Seatrade Cruise Global in Miami Beach, FL. Not surprisingly given the pandemic, it was cancelled. But fortunately, many popular show elements unfolded virtually last week within the Seatrade Cruise Virtual.
Most anticipated by participants was the annual “State of the Industry” discussion by Arnold Donald of Carnival Corporation, Richard Fain of Royal Caribbean Group, Pierfrancesco Vago of MSC Cruises and NCLH's Frank Del Rio. The group expressed optimism about the potential for cruising from U.S. ports later this year.
In introductory remarks, Kelly Craighead, CLIA's president and CEO, talked about the current fall-out from cruise-related tourism, noting that 2,500 maritime/cruise jobs are being lost daily.
She also announced that all CLIA oceangoing lines with ships of more than 250 passengers—not simply those in that category sailing from U.S. ports and subject to the CDC’s "No Sail Order"—have committed to the 100 percent testing policy.
In a Seatrade press conference, Holland America Line introduced Gus Antorcha, its newly appointed president and CEO, who provided reporters with his brand insight. In other press briefing news, the following cruise line shared updates:
- American Cruise Lines talked about new ships, new itineraries, potential restart timing on the Mississippi River and more
- AmaWaterways discussed new culinary steps, new ships, booking trends, company financial intel, advisor engagement, and multi-generational tidbits
- Atlas Ocean Voyages provided intel on its new ship, other new ships on the horizon, new land adventures and its luxe-adventure style of cruising
Also conducting a briefing were executives from Ponant including Navin Sawhney, the line's CEO, The Americas, whose insight and perspective was covered in our last Cruise Chatter column.
Pros and Cons
In other news of the week, both "pros and cons" surfaced for the cruise industry. Cons? Both NCLH and Royal Caribbean Group extended their suspension of voyages. On the positive side, good news included the following:
- Major cruise company executives from the "Big Four" plus Disney Cruise Line spoke on a conference call with the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force on Friday. In a brief statement, CLIA said: "We appreciated the opportunity to engage with the CDC and the Administration to discuss resumption of cruising in the U.S. We look forward to further discussions to support a gradual return to operations this year.
- On the sailing front, Costa Smeralda became Costa Cruises’ third ship to restart cruising in Europe.
- Both Royal Caribbean Group and Genting's Dream Cruises were given a "go ahead" by Singapore's government to offer roundtrip "cruises to nowhere" carrying Singapore nationals onboard.
- Findings from MMGY Travel Intelligence's Travel Intentions Pulse Survey (TIPS) and MMGY Global’s Travel Safety Barometer show increasing confidence in the safety of domestic and international travel, cruising, dining and entertainment and lodging.
Certainly, the big cruise industry "people news” of the month was industry veteran Jack Anderson's appointment as interim president and CEO of Crystal, as reported by sister publication Luxury Travel Advisor. After completing a three-year contract, Tom Wolber has stepped down from that role to focus on family priorities
“While I will be new to this role, I am not new to the cruise industry (more than 30 years) or the 'Crystal Family,'” Anderson told Crystal’s past guests in an email.
Well-known to the trade, Anderson served as vice chairman for Crystal Cruises from 2013-2015 and also previously as senior vice president of marketing and sales. Most recently, he served on Crystal’s executive team as an advisor to Wolber.
Characterizing Anderson's appointment as "a good move" is Tom Baker, president, CruiseCenter, a Signature Travel Network member agency in Houston, TX, said: "Jack Anderson is a brilliant mind. He know numbers like nobody else and creative well-planned marketing that moves sales. He is a true strategist and analyst but also with a heart."
Baker actually worked under Anderson and alongside Kirk Lanterman at Holland America Line for many years, noting that "Jack was really responsible for the company's profits, strategy and what led to the purchase by Carnival Corporation as it was the most profitable cruise line at the time."
As cruise lines bring in new executives, introduce new programs and policies, and revamp their businesses, travel advisors also have been forced to reinvent or finetune their business models. Since 87 percent of travel advisors who've completed a complimentary Travel Agent University specialist course believe the expertise gained will increase their future business revenue, here's one trade edu-opportunity.
In November, SeaDream Yacht Club is restarting Caribbean service roundtrip from Barbados to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada. Advisors can enhance their Grenada destination knowledge with Travel Agent University’s specialist program, "Pure Grenada: The Spice of the Caribbean."
Cruise Marketing: Tell the Story
Seatrade Cruise Virtual also provided learning opportunities. A session by Bob Allen, chief storytelling officer, IDEAS of Orlando, focused on the importance of getting people "to fall in love" with your brand story. Advisors should ask themselves: "What am I doing that no one else is doing?"
Storytelling is critical, he said, so “tell a story that’s unique to you and has character, setting, plot, voice, emotion and conflict.” The goal of focused storytelling is to increase the metrics for a much higher likelihood of what you want to happen with customers to actually happen.
Within the cruise industry's world, he cited such positive storytelling examples as Disney Cruise Line and Perfect Day at Coco Cay, the revamped private Bahamian isle of Royal Caribbean International.
Sessions also stressed to conference attendees that there is no “return to normal…there never was a normal." The world is always changing. Also, he says there's no “new normal,” but there will always be a “next normal,” the most interesting example of that is how life globally was never the same after World War II.
And for advisors, he provided hope: "The current market 'reset' translates into opportunity."