Sailing onboard Crystal Symphony this week for Crystal Cruises’ annual trade gala are 74 qualified travel agent partners from 14 countries. Together they racked up $163 million in Crystal Cruises revenue during 2017. During the event Tom Wolber, Crystal's president and CEO, updated attendees on the line's recommitment to travel agents, as well as the latest on the luxury brand's expansion.
“It is each and every one of you and all of you collectively who have helped bring Crystal to this very exciting moment in our history,” Wolber told the agents in kicking off a day of shipboard presentations. “Your knowledge of luxury travel, your insight and awareness of the Crystal brand, is vital to all of us.”
“And as we reach an ever evolving audience of new luxury travelers through our expansion efforts, there is a world of opportunity ahead of all of us to grow our collective businesses like never before,” he stressed, adding that these new travelers seek innovative ways to explore the world with a trusted brand, and they need travel agents to make that happen.
Challenges & Stabilization: “And we know making those journeys a reality hasn’t been always easy with us,” said Wolber. “We do take full responsibility for that. My team and I are very aware of the challenges that we all face and are facing together.”
He said these challenges were due to a number of reasons, including rapid growth, introducing new technologies and processes and launching new ships and experiences … and all at the same time, while Crystal was building its team in different locations around the world.
“So we have taken the first seven months of my time here at Crystal to refocus and recommit to the delivery of the Crystal brand that has resonated with audiences for over 27 years.”
He said that the ship’s staff, officers and crew deliver an award-winning six-star service and “now we need to ensure that our shoreside teams do that as well,” to the claps of the top producing agents in the audience.
“As a result, this year is going to be a year of focus on stabilization,” he said. “We are minimizing itinerary changes, which I’m sure you’re going to like.” He also said the line is enhancing and fine-tuning technology processes, as well as optimizing communications procedures.
Simultaneously, he said the line is reaffirming its commitment to agents as it strives to be a pleasure to do business with: “We’re committed to provide tools and resources that will help you grow your business, and we are committed to listening and learning from you on how we can be better partners. You have our promise to maintain these commitments to enhance our partnership and mutual success.
Crystal’s Place: “Crystal’s brand promise was born on our iconic oceangoing ships and they remain at the heart of everything we do,” emphasized Wolber. “We will continue to invest on our ocean ships.”
Referring to Crystal Symphony’s drydock update last year, he added: “This fall it will be the Crystal Serenity’s turn,” citing an “equally significant” drydock to create new penthouses, new restaurants, open seating in dining, technology upgrades and a redesign of the ship's public spaces.
“We will reduce the capacity of the ship while increasing the number of crew onboard slightly to deliver an even more incredible experience to our guests,” Wolber said.
New Ocean Ships: Wolber also provided the agents with a quick update about the line’s new class of ships, setting sail in 2022 and beyond. “The class will now be named the Diamond Class and – other than what was communicated earlier – we are looking at a smaller design [60,000-grt to 65,000-grt] that is more in line with our current ship,” Wolber said.
“That size is the right size for the level of service and attention to detail that is at the core of the Crystal brand,” he emphasized, noting that “you cannot do this type of [ultra-luxury] service in a mass environment. “
In addition, Wolber said that for the first ship, “we have decided to move ahead without any residences, while we continue to conduct more research on that concept. It’s not going to be combined on a passenger vessel. That just will not work.”
Wolber said he will leave the gala a bit early toward the end of the week to head out and finalize the new ship class’ design details. “By the next [sales] gala we will certainly be able to share with you the details on the Diamond Class vessels,” he said.
River & Yacht: On the river side, Wolber said he had just returned from Germany where he took delivery of the new Crystal Ravel, the fifth of the line’s river vessels in just two years.
“Demand for the experience aboard our river ships is high, even with the increase of capacity in 2018, but that does not mean there is not space available,” said Wolber. He said guest ratings for the Crystal river cruises are among the highest in the fleet.
Most notably as a trend, “we’re also finding that about 50 percent of river cruise guests are brand new to the Crystal brand,” he said, “and the average age is skewing slightly lower than our oceangoing ships.”
In addition, Crystal Esprit, the line’s luxury yacht, is also attracting new guests to Crystal and is headed to the Adriatic this summer. “She attracts a younger and more adventurous traveler seeking active experiences and itineraries featuring less traveled destinations that larger ships simply cannot enter or visit,” Wolber noted.
Guest make-up for that yacht is skewing even younger than the river ships -- 60 percent new to the Crystal brand, he said.
Expansion Objectives: Objectives behind Crystal’s expansion? “It is bringing new and younger guests to the Crystal brand that, ultimately, we hope will graduate and move to [Crystal’s] oceangoing products,” said Wolber.
In addition, the expansion gives Crystal’s loyal guests a new way to explore the world.
Expedition Cruising: Crystal Endeavor, the brand’s new ultra-luxury expedition ship launching in 2020, is described by Wolber as an industry “game changer." He says the brand’s entry into this expedition segment “is a natural response to the demand for an increasing segment of consumers who are craving immersive, active experiences into the lesser known regions of the world,” the so-called “Final Frontier.”
Wolber revealed some new accommodation details. “Crystal Endeavor will be the largest vessel of her kind at almost 20,000 tons [grt] with only 100 suites or 200 passengers,” he said, describing accommodations as “all suite, all verandah and all butler service. All will feature floor to ceiling windows with layouts designed around the external views.
“Imagine exploring the far corners of the world and having adventures that you’ve only dreamed of…and then returning to your luxurious home base where you’re welcomed by a caring and gracious crew who treat you like the family that you are,” said Wolber.
Crystal Endeavor’s suites – including two Crystal Penthouses, eight Penthouse suites, and 90 deluxe suites will be “elegantly styled with beautiful linens, luxurious touches and a décor with all the amenities anyone could wish for,” he said.
Roomy bathrooms will have dual vanities, anti-fog mirrors, rain showerheads and heated floors. Suites also will have walk-in closets and a heated storage space for guests’ parkas.
“Actually you don’t even have to go into your stateroom,” Wolber explained. “There’s a heated closet just outside for you privately. You can put your damp parka in there, it dries out and is nice and warm the next day waiting to go out again. “
On the technology side, the vessel will offer free Wi-Fi, interactive TVs and streaming iPads bedside.
In closing, Wolford touched very briefly on 2020 itineraries, including the 2020 World Cruise, a 105-day voyage, “Epic Empires and Idyllic Isles,” which departs January 6, 2020, from Miami to Rome on Crystal Serenity.
Sailing throughout the Southern Hemisphere and its islands, the World Cruise will call at 43 ports in 27 countries, many for the first time for Crystal. That and other new 2020 voyages will open for booking in May.
Throughout the Week: Crystal’s top producers are onboard Crystal Symphony all week for the trade gala; the week-long cruise – also the final segment of the ship’s 2018 World Cruise -- ends in Port Everglades, FL, early next week.
During the Tuesday program, the line announced it has formed its first travel agent advisory council, with names of the agents to be released later this week.
Throughout this week, Wolber and his team are updating gala participants on the line’s programs, updates to processes and ways agents can work together with the line to grow their businesses.
The ultimate goal for Wolber and his team? “Exceeding the wishes and expectations of our guests and, of you, our travel partners.”