Defining Regent Seven Seas

Many front-line agents liked the former Radisson Seven Seas Cruises product, but felt it needed a bit more "luxury cache." Now, after the line's switch to the luxury Regent brand, a $20 million fleet refurbishment and adoption of all-inclusive pricing, agents say it's a positive transformation. SUSAN J. YOUNG

"One of my agents, Diane Kimczak, just got off the Seven Seas Voyager," says Sally Goldwasser, president, Unique Travel of Palm Beach, a Virtuoso agency. "I asked her how she felt about it and she just raved." Goldwasser says Kimczak felt the soft good upgrades were wonderful and the bed very comfortable. "Even the sitting area of the cabin was modernized and improved," notes Goldwasser, who says Regent's new all-inclusive policy also "makes it much more comfortable when having drinks at the bar or wine with dinner."

In July, Travel Agent interviewed Mark Conroy, Regent Seven Seas' president, about the brand changeover. Here are excerpts from that conversation.

Regent's Seven Seas Navigator

First, we've heard rumors of a new trade gala?

: While we haven't had a Top Producers' cruise previously, I can tell you that we will probably do our first trade gala later this year—most likely just before the holidays in the Caribbean. We'd like to recognize those agents who really do well for us.

How has the Radisson-to-Regent switch gone?

It's actually gone better than I thought. In hindsight, I wish we'd done it two years earlier. Although the Radisson name was a good name, it wasn't a luxury name. Customers often didn't know us if they got a mailing or saw an ad. They viewed us more in the competitive set of Carnival or Royal Caribbean. People know the Regent name as a luxury brand, so we get much better direct mail and ad responses.

Refurbished suite on Seven Seas Voyager

The Regent name also helps travel agents make the sale with new customers; often they don't have to explain who we are. And while some luxury brands weren't interested in partnering with us previously, that's changed. We have a few things in the pipeline with luxury suppliers. Stay tuned.

You've raised fares? How do you compare with other luxury lines?
We've raised rates to compensate for including liquor and gratuities in our fares. Rates vary by voyage but generally pricing is up 13-15 percent. Our lead-in pricing used to start at about $300 per guest, per day; that's now $350 per guest, per day in the Caribbean and $450 per guest, per day elsewhere. Competitively, we're usually priced slightly below Silversea and somewhat cheaper than Seabourn. Crystal's stateroom types vary widely, so pricing comparisons also vary.

How's business faring?
This is our best year yet with a 15 percent increase in sales without any capacity increase. For 2008, we're also off to a great start; we're currently 21 percent ahead of [where we were at the same date in 2006 looking at bookings for this year].

Why so many upgrades? Why not just a name change?
We couldn't just change the name and have nothing else different. That's why the re-branding took a little longer than we thought. We had to come up with different elements. We were already planning the shipboard refurbishments, but with the change to Regent we went a little further and spent a little more money.

We went all-inclusive as a tie-in point, and that's been a huge factor. Now liquor [except for specialty or rare vintages] is included. We tested this concept on our World Cruise and it created much more social interaction onboard.

What else has changed?
We've adopted the Tao of Regent (set forth by Bob Burns, Regent Hotels' founder); it stresses that to serve others is to serve one's self. This philosophy fits well with Regent's Asian heritage and a service culture that embraces "hear without being told, see without being shown and know without being asked."

We've always had a strong complement of Filipino crew. Now we've added more Chinese, Indonesian, Balinese and Thai crew. There are many good hotels in Asia and we'll have more staff cross-pollenization between the hotel and cruise side.

On our Circle Asia cruises, we've added overnights at the Regent Beijing, so guests can take a land tour. On port calls, we'll take cruise guests to our new Regent Shanghai hotel for cooking classes; we'll also do that at the new Regent Bangkok (under construction).

Onboard, we've rolled out a new musically based entertainment program; we've added a larger group that can play as a full orchestra but can also be broken up into smaller combos for multiple types of entertainment around the ships.

In all suites, we're installing new flat-screen televisions (to be completed by mid-2008). Early next year, we also expect to introduce new interactive television programming.

Who is the Regent customer?
Our average age is now 56; just a few years back it was mid-60s. We have two sets of customers. Traditional customers are typically in their 60s and enjoy the longer Grand Voyages. For 2008, we'll have four Grand Voyages—the same three as this year, plus a new 82-night, five-continent Discovery Collection cruise on Seven Seas Navigator.

Our young professionals who are still working have the money but not the time; they could buy a cheaper 10-day cruise on another line, but they prefer to spend a few days less and step up to luxury. Seven days in the Mediterranean is a big hit. Yet, traditional cruisers still combine several seven-day itineraries to create a 14- or 21-day cruise. Alaska and the Baltic have also been very successful for us with families.

What's improved with guest communications?
A new comprehensive database system for Seven Seas Society information allows for highly personalized communications. For example, a magazine-style itinerary update sent to a past guest might say: "Dear Mrs. Jones, last time you sailed you said you hoped to visit the Mediterranean; you'll find our upcoming itineraries for that region on pages 10 to 15."

We also have introduced Innovation surveys on our web site. When we couldn't decide on the "right" photo for our new Cruise Atlas, we asked for web feedback and received 5,000 responses over one weekend.

Why did you change your smoking policy to prohibit smoking in suites and on balconies?
This was a tough decision based on multiple factors. Smoking was the number one complaint during our onboard question-and-answer session with our World Cruise guests. So, effective with our New Year's cruises, we've prohibited smoking in suites or on balconies. There are at least three other designated smoking areas onboard each ship.

Only 3-15 percent of guests on any voyage are smokers. A large number of our guests who are smokers don't smoke in their suites. So for them, there is little impact. Still, we've had more than $1 million in cancellations. But it was the right thing to do. Hopefully once the smokers get over the change they will come back, but primarily it was about doing the right thing.

What thoughts do you want to leave with agents?
Don't be intimidated by our new pricing. We still represent great value. Do a price comparison for clients showing the cost of our cruise in U.S. dollars versus a luxury European resort vacation or tour. Considering our inclusiveness, we even price well with contemporary cruise products.

Sell our combination of very personalized service and the destination experience. Guests have the comfort of home but with a high level of service that's not too stuffy. It's luxury for sure, but it's not snobbish.