Crystal Gala: Edie Rodriguez Talks What’s Next for Luxury Brand

Crystal Mozart's Waterside Restaurant during the Crystal Gala // Photo by Ana Figueroa

By Air, By Sea, By River, All About You” is the theme of the 26th Annual Crystal Sales Awards Gala. It’s taking place this week aboard the Crystal Mozart and Travel Agent is there.

With a guest capacity of 154, Crystal Mozart couldn’t accommodate all 300 top producers in one sailing. So, the gala was scheduled over two back-to-back sailings before the start of the revenue season.

International agents took part in “Gala 1,” held last week. North American agents are on “Gala 2,” though they aren’t exactly sailing anywhere. A gear box problem has kept Crystal Mozart docked in Komarno, Slovakia. Coach excursions will take agents to the originally-scheduled ports of Budapest and Bratislava.

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Agents are taking the logistical snafu in stride.

“I feel sorrier for Crystal than for the agents. Most of us have been on river cruises before. The point is to see the Mozart and hear about what’s in store for the line,” Van Anderson, co-founder of Avoya Travel, tells Travel Agent.

Based on the lineup of speakers and presentations, there’s plenty of news to go around.

Crystal President and CEO Edie Rodriguez and her executive team are providing the scoop on many topics.

“Crystal is a 26-year-old brand that didn’t grow for 24 years. But then we got new owners (Genting Hong Kong) and that changed everything,” said Rodriquez in her opening remarks.

Indeed.

To say that Genting’s acquisition of Crystal Cruises in 2015 shook things up is an understatement. It led to one of the boldest expansions ever seen in the travel space. What emerged were new river, expedition and ocean cruise concepts, as well as luxury air and private jet journeys.

“Genting is growing us by leaps and bounds,” said Crystal CFO Donald Mason. “They’re investing billions in us. They see a company with outstanding brand equity that they want to turn into much larger luxury player,” he said.

Executives charged with sales, marketing, reservations, operations, food and beverage, charters and technology explained how the transformation is going.

Among the key items from the beginning of the week:

Delivery of Crystal River Cruises’ first newbuilds has been delayed. Crystal Bach and Crystal Mahler will now debut on August 13 and September 30, 2017, respectively. The 106-passenger vessels are the first two of six newbuilds on order for the line.

Unique features of the ships include a Palm Court with a glass ceiling, from which guests can take in panoramic views. The pool area will also have a glass roof. Rooms will have floor-to-ceiling glass walls that become French Balconies at the touch of a button.

The company has high hopes for the river newbuilds, considering Crystal Mozart’s success. The Mozart’s inaugural year was sold out. At present, it’s Crystal’s most fully-booked vessel for 2017. Plans call for a private dock for the Mozart in Vienna in 2018. It will be across from the Vienna Hilton.

COO Thomas Mazloum noted that there was quite a learning curve in moving from the ocean to the rivers.

“The only thing they have in common is that they both float,” said Mazloum.

He explained that everything from provisioning to staffing to safety and security all bear distinctive Crystal hallmarks.

Dining is open seating, with a large galley that can offer meals prepared for guests as they order.

To the company’s surprise, fifty percent of guests on the Mozart were new to Crystal. The point driven home to agents: don’t market only to Crystal Society past guests.

Crystal’s new Yacht Expedition Cruises also launched quite successfully. Year-to-date the boutique Crystal Esprit vessel is the highest-rated product in the company. Equipped with its own speedboat and a two-passenger submersible, the 62-passenger Esprit “extends the Crystal culture to the yacht experience,” said Mazloum.

After its inaugural season in the Seychelles, Crystal Esprit moves to the Caribbean in the winter of 2017. Beginning in 2018, the ship’s captain will be able to perform legal marriage ceremonies.

“It’s a great opportunity to target the wedding market business. You can get married in the submarine if you wish,” said Mazloum.           

Crystal Endeavor joins the Crystal Esprit in 2019.

“It will be one of the best things we’ve ever launched. Don’t think of it as an expedition ship in the traditional way. These are private yachts. We have three more on the drawing board. Let’s see how the market responds,” said Mazloum.

Despite the glitzy new ship launches, Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity remain the company’s bread and butter. They’re both set for the most extensive drydocks in their history. They’ll emerge in the fall of 2017 and October of 2018 with a more intimate passenger capacity of 848 for Crystal Symphony and 980 for Crystal Serenity.

Both will add larger suites, some 40-50 additional penthouses on each.

New dining venues on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity will bring the open seating concept to the seas. Silk will serve modern Chinese fare for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The Lido will be renamed The Marketplace. In the evening, it will offer a special section serving Brazilian-Argentinian steakhouse fare, called Churrascaria. Additionally, Silk Road will become Umi Uma by Nobu Matsuhisa (the name is Japanese for sea horse). And the main dining room will be renamed Waterside Restaurant, the same as on Crystal Mozart.

In shore excursion news for 2018, offerings will be categorized by experience. They include: cultural discovery, tantalizing gastronomy, personal connections, exhilarating adventures and design your time, with custom private guides and drivers.

After talking new developments and products, Rodriguez summarized the brand's recent growth.

“We’ve just had three most profitable years in Crystal’s 27-year history. That came during two years in which we were in growth mode. I always want more. We will perpetually evolve. After the next full season, we probably will have more tweaking to do. Getting to number one is easy. Staying there is hard. We want to be the best partner you ever do business with,” said Rodriguez to the agents.

She also made a point of giving out her email address and cell phone number.

“We can’t fix problems we don’t know about. We want to always be accessible,” she added.

Agents qualified for this year’s gala by reaching the $750,000 mark in sales. Next year, the threshold will be $1 million. As of early March 2017, 52 agencies had already met that $1 million mark.

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