Edie Rodriguez: Why Crystal Cruises Could Be Poised for Growth

crystal serenity atrium
Atrium on Crystal Serenity // Photo by Susan J. Young

Crystal Cruises posted positive sales results in 2013, and if that performance steadily continues, the line is likely poised for potential growth, Edie Rodriguez, Crystal's president and chief operating officer, told the line’s top producers attending Crystal's 23rd Sales Achievement Awards Gala on Friday. The program is still under way on Crystal Serenity, as the ship sails between Southampton, U.K. and Lisbon, Portugal

“You know how great we are today, so what’s next?” said Rodriguez. “My personal vision for this great brand is seven ships, seven seas, seven continents, and as you know, if you do the math, that means five more [ships]. I think we’ll get there over time, particularly as you know in business, it’s about the numbers.”

Photo by Susan J. Young

While she made no announcements about any additions to the fleet, she did indicate those numbers look pretty good. 

  • In fiscal year 2013, sales were up 22 percent compared with 2012, which had a 9 percent increase over 2011.
  • Occupancies for 2013 were up 7 percent over 2012.
  • Average fares increased 14 percent in 2013, when compared with the previous year.

So with that a backdrop, she said that when a line has a successful year, as Crystal did last year, the key is to “not make that a one-hit wonder and have that continue [so then] we’ll have some good news stories coming out in the future.”

How that growth might come – whether a new build or acquired tonnage – wasn’t specified. “In the interim, it really is about making sure each voyage is as special as possible,” she said.

RELATED: Crystal Cruises Expands 2014 You Care, We Care Program

crystal gala
Photo by Susan J. Young

The 108-day 2015 World Cruise sold out a year in advance, Rodriguez told the top producers. When the July final payment deadline arrives, potential guests on the wait list will find out if they have been cleared. “That’s really a testament to your sales efforts,” she told the travel advisors and agency owners. 

In 2009, some 70 agents qualified to attend the annual sales trade gala by posting $500,000 or more in annual sales; the average revenue total for those agencies was about $1.5 million. In 2010, 87 agencies qualified, while 93 agencies qualified this year.

Rodriguez noted that the participants in year’s trade gala included 50 trade executives whose agencies posted more than $1 million in revenue for 2013; another 26 had agencies with more than $2 million in revenue. In total, more than $130 million in sales came from the trade gala group. 

Crystal also said 71 percent of its business was via field sales in North America, a 3 percentage point drop from 2012. But those numbers reflect the growth of international trade sales rather than any increase in direct business.

In fact Crystal’s direct business of 5 percent in 2012 remained the same during 2013. But international agent sales are on the rise -- 24 percent in 2013 versus 21 percent in 2012.

What about the guests themselves? The two decision drivers for clients are reputation and destinations, said Rodriguez. In 2013, more than 54 percent of guests were members of the Crystal Society, the line's past guest loyalty program. In addition, 45.6 percent of guests were new to Crystal in 2013; that's up from 43.9 percent in 2012.

edie rodriguez
Photo by Susan J. Young

In discussing the line’s existing fleet, Rodriguez noted that Crystal had invested $120 million in the refurbishment and renovations to both Crystal Serenity ($57 million) and Crystal Symphony ($65 million). 

RELATED: Crystal Serenity Completes Makeover

Recent enhancements to Crystal Serenity included updated Crystal Penthouses plus several new dining venues, Trident Grill, Lido Café, Scoops (the ice cream shop) and Tastes, which Rodriguez acknowledges is her personal favorite. 

She also talked about the appeal of the four new walls of living greens on Crystal Serenity. The top deck also has an herb garden at sea and olive trees, which are lighted up at night. “The chefs can pick fresh herbs and actually cook with them,” she noted.

Living Wall onboard Crystal Serenity // Photo by Susan J. Young
Living Wall onboard Crystal Serenity // Photo by Susan J. Young

Most guests have an experience that exceeds their expectations, she said, but noted that it’s very important that if a complaint or comment develops from a guest onboard, that it’s handled immediately. “You have one chance to make a great first impression,” Rodriguez stressed.

So the line has a new e-mail for onboard guest comments/complaints -- [email protected]. Crystal immediately can handle the situation on site while the guest is still sailing. "That moment of truth can be enhanced while they’re still with us,” said Rodriguez.

New perks? Starting in fall, Crystal Society members will receive up to 60 minutes of complimentary Wi-Fi service per day. “Today’s global guests want and need to be connected all the time,” said Rodriguez.

The line also wants to add new exclusive onboard shops. New is SAMA eyewear, now available on Crystal Serenity. Rodriguez described the sunglasses as eyewear for celebrities, showing a picture of actor Brad Pitt wearing the sunglasses on a video screen. 

Prices range from $300 up to as much as $100,000; the latter is jewel encrusted.  “This is just one of the many exclusives in what we offer,” said Rodriguez.

main dining room onboard crystal serenity
Crystal Serenity's main dining room // Photo by Susan J. Young

Itinerary-wise, this year Crystal has more combination voyages with few repeating ports; more overnights or longer stays in ports; more short getaways; long voyages including the World Cruise; and special event cruises including New Year’s Eve in Hong Kong or Rio.

She said “Crystal Celebrations” programs have been increasingly popular and helps agents attract new clients not familiar with the line. The program provides expert planning for weddings, vow renewals anniversaries and other important family events on the ship or in any of the ports Crystal visits.

Crystal has partnered with an expert firm, which “allows you to offer services to your clients without you really having to do the micro-detail [such as planning] a wedding on an elephant at Angkor Wat,” she said. Commission is 10 percent.

crystal serenity's deluxe balcony stateroom
Deluxe balcony stateroom onboard Crystal Serenity // Photo by Susan J. Young

Rodriguez also said Crystal has developed a new concept of PURE staterooms, a hypo-allegenic option; it's now on Crystal Serenity, and Crystal Symphony will be outfitted with the program “later this year.

RELATED: Crystal Serenity to Get Allergy-Friendly Staterooms

Next year is Crystal’s 25th anniversary, so the line will have special “Captain’s Cruise” and on the actual anniversary date, there will be simultaneous chairman’s and president’s cruises; Rodriguez will host the latter.   

It’s all about choice, said Rodriguez. “Today’s consumer wants ‘me, myself and I,’ and that’s why things are called iPhones and iPads,” she noted. “They want individual choices, not only in the destinations but in the individual experiences.”

She also said she was very much a fan of the travel agent distribution model. “We will continue to distribute through each and every one of you and your agents,” she stressed.

“I think the future is very, very bright here at Crystal,” Rodriguez added, noting, "If I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t have joined this great team.”