Crystal Cruises has not yet inked a new deal to build a new ship, although it is still designing the new vessel behind the scenes. Gregg Michel, president of the luxury cruise line, which operates the Serenity and the Symphony, gave the news to his top-producing travel agents on the Crystal Serenity in July when he hosted Crystal’s annual top-producers' gala on an itinerary that ran from Athens to Rome.
Bill Smith, senior VP of marketing for Crystal Cruises; Edyta Teper, Los Angeles DSM for Crystal; Eric Maryanov of All-Travel in Las Angeles; and Crystal's president, Gregg Michel. Maryanov was honored as a top producer during the 2008 Crystal Gala
"We don't have a new ship to announce; we have a real challenge with the euro/dollar exchange rate right now," he told the 91 agents in attendance. "We don't want to make a bad deal. Crystal's owners have spoken to the shipyards and I have spoken to the shipyards. It's a matter of doing the right thing at the right time."
Michel says that Crystal has invested nearly $40 million over 24 months in its existing ships. The Serenity in November will have its Crystal Cove and Plaza lobby area redesigned and a new bar will replace the old. New decor will line the fifth- and sixth-floor walkways that lead to staterooms, and perhaps most importantly, 12 AA category staterooms will be turned into eight Penthouse Suites. These premium accommodations will be able to connect to existing staterooms. This latter piece of news drew applause from the travel agents in attendance, which, as a group, had generated $119 million in revenue for Crystal in 2007. That number is up from $91 million in 2006.
Travel Agent’s Editorial Director, Ruthanne Terrero, spoke with Michel, as well as Crystal’s senior vice president of marketing, Bill Smith, on the Gala Cruise, where they touched upon topics as varied as what the luxury line’s new ship will look like, to the new affluent consumer whose demands for luxury experiences seem to show no boundaries.
Eric Graves, VP sales/fields sales for Crystal; Bill Smith; Mary Jean and Brad Tully, The Cruise Professionals; Aida Vincelli, The Cruise Professionals; and Gregg Michel. The Cruise Professionals was Crystal's top-producing agency for 2008
TA: A new ship hasn’t been ordered yet, but you are working on its design. What’s happening there?
MICHEL: The new ship will probably have larger staterooms than we have in our standard staterooms today. And, with this cross-generational travel that we're seeing, we need more flexibility; the rooms that are connecting have to connect in the right way and in an unobtrusive sense. As the rooms get larger and we have connectivity, we would be able to get a third berth in there comfortably.
We can also see offering more alternatives with more choices in the food arena. We can also see improving on the space-per-guest ratio in the dining rooms; in fact, we could see upping the bar on the whole space per guest ratio on the entire ship.
SMITH: I don't see us really expanding the capacity of the ship, though. The number that we're at is around 1,000 and that’s a great number. Now, the new ship will become larger just because you want larger staterooms and more public space, but as far as a density of the ship, we like the size that we are so we will stay along with that. I think there are also certain features of the Crystal product, the Palm Court that's an important signature part of the Crystal product. The Promenade area is something keeping within that would be something that we would like to keep.
Software will continue to be innovative as the new ship comes along. My idea of the ship is if you are building a ship, you're not building a ship for today's market. The ship is not going to come out until 2014, but you're not even building it for 2014, you're building it for 2018 or 2020 because you're going to have that ship for 15 to 20 years. My personal opinion is that a lot of the ships that are being built today are being built for today's market.
They don't have that innovation that I think… And that's typical way Crystal has built their ships. When the Harmony came out, it was innovative and when the Symphony came out, when the Serenity came out and I think that ship that Crystal will come into the market with will be exactly what the market would expect Crystal can do.
TA: How do you evolve the onboard experience to keep up with consumer demand?
MICHEL: Your have to stay current and you have to even be a little ahead of the curve on those kinds of things. And you know what? You have to offer the guest things that they may not even be expecting. So we deliver beyond expectations. That's what's expected of us, coming up with ideas that that they haven't even thought of yet that they even want.
SMITH: Today's consumer is so knowledgeable. They’ve experienced and done so much, it's a challenge. They want it now and it's got to be personalized, it's got to be an experience. If you're not delivering those things, they'll turn around and walk away from you in heartbeat.
TA: How closely do you look at the hotel industry to see what they're doing? They’re in a similar situation; people go to a hotel room and they expect things that they have in their homes now to be in this room.
MICHEL: Well, that's on the hardware side. You know, when you think of the activity that the average hotel offers versus what we offer, there's really no comparison. A hotel provides the facility, the accommodation, but when you get into all of these activities and fun things, we're really looking beyond that because hotels just don't provide those kinds of experiences. They don’t capture guests in the same way. We’re in the restaurant business, so we’re looking at food and wine. We’ve developed an entire cocktail menu using fresh ingredients and we’re also bringing some of the old cocktails but we’re doing it the right way.With the new dessert menu, we have a combination of some of the standards and having two or three new selections each day for the guests. So, from the food and dining business, we're looking everywhere to continue to innovate and stay fresh there. We also have opportunities in every destination to build upon. If you deliver a fresh and innovative product, people are quite willing to pay for it, whether it's Antarctica or a Ferrari experience in Italy. They're really quite willing to try that and they're very excited by it.
TA: Are you surprised that people have grasped some of the ultra-luxurious ground experiences that you’ve put together?
SMITH: No, because that's what they expect. If we weren't doing it, we'd feel it. And I'm not surprised that they're tremendously successful. The same person that's going to One&Only is looking for a unique, personalized experience.
MICHEL: If we keep to the concept of how do we deliver that destination, the foundation of our goal is to keep improving that. If we go into Monte-Carlo and a different cruise line goes into Monte-Carlo, when you read those two brochures, they’re going to say "Monte- Carlo." But we need to deliver that world-class destination better than the next guy. And whether it's that destination or whether it's a not-so-popular destination, we've got to find the very best things to do there and deliver them in the right way.
TA: Will you continue to push to deliver more of those ultra-luxury experiences?
SMITH: Yes, and we'll be pushed by the consumer who will want that. The challenge will be to continue to come up with those unique experiences. I remember when we did the Mig [Fighter Jet excursion over Moscow]. Well, we thought that was just super cool. Now, all of a sudden, they’ve got a Mig Jet but now they want a Ferrari and I don't want that Ferrari, I want this Ferrari, and I don't want it for half a day, I want it for a full day. So, it may become a challenge to come up with what's the next, where's that envelope, what's the next cutting edge, what's the next thing that you'll push. You know, what's going to happen? Consumers are going to tell us what that is.
TA: I noticed that your guests are getting a little bit younger.
SMITH: Younger people are coming in and more internationals are coming in. When we're in the Med you're going to see younger guests; in the Baltics it will probably skew older and in Asia it will probably skew even older. If you look at the person taking the World Cruise now it's not a demographic, it's a psychographic.
MICHEL: You also have baby boomers who these days are doing things that a generation ago they wouldn't have been doing. They want to have a good time, they want to be challenged. Don't get me wrong, the World Cruisers aren’t a bunch of 50 year-olds, but we see that the people taking are much younger and some of them are very, very energetic and really they're ready to experience anything.