Execs: How Silversea’s Classic, Expedition Brands Work Together

The Silver Cloud was docked near the Tower of London before setting sail. // Photo by Susan J. Young

Travel Agent recently attended Silversea Expeditions' 10th anniversary sailing under London's Tower Bridge onboard the Silver Cloud. In this discussion with Barbara Muckermann, chief marketing officer for Silversea; Mark Conroy, managing director, the Americas; Manfredi Lefebvre, executive chairman and owner, Silversea Cruises and Silversea Expeditions; and Conrad Combrink, senior vice president, strategic development expeditions and experiences, they discuss how the classic and expedition brands work together. 

For Silversea, having an expedition product like Silversea Expeditions has helped the classic brand. The classic ships – while not operating a full expedition product for sure -- can offer a taste of that here and there. That may occur in individual ports on certain itineraries. 

So, the 2020 World Cruise will be the first to “land” guests on all seven continents, not just to sail by in Antarctica, for example. For that specific cruise, “we are adding Zodiacs to the Silver Whisper,” said Muckermann. She also said that voyage is almost fully booked.

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Travel Agent asked how clients for the classic product and the expedition fleet vary and what the brands are seeing with new-to-cruise guests.

Loyal Venetian Society members like both products, stresses Muckermann: “It is going to be extremely rare that you find a Silversea passenger who only travels on expedition or only travels on classic.”

In fact, what often happens, said Muckermann, is that “they’re doing their exotic trips on expedition, and then they go and rest [doing a classic fleet itinerary]. This is a pattern that we see a lot.”

She told travel agents in the audience that the same customer who chooses to book a World Cruise also may choose a Grand Voyage on the expedition side. “So these are really the similar people.”

But, as mentioned previously, the group that’s really been growing in strength for Silversea is the Boomer group. “Baby Boomers are amazingly attracted by all the incredible things you can do with expedition, which is a very hands on [experience],” said Muckermann. “This is the fastest growing demographic that we have in our group.”

The line is also attracting families and new-to-cruise guests in both Alaska and the Galapagos, Muckermann noted. Alaska is often booked for families, while Galapagos is mostly for the expedition lovers who may have never cruised.

“We do see that typically the expedition products do attract more ‘new to brand’ customers compared to the classic,” she noted. Those that come to the classic product are often trying to upgrade from another cruise product, while the guest perspective is a little different on the expedition side.

Muckermann says those people might instead say: “I really want to go to Antarctica” but then almost as an aside, say, “Oh, I need a ship.” They ask themselves which one and that’s how they get to the line.

Counteracting Misperceptions

Conroy believes that there are new-to-brand people who become first time expedition cruisers because they previously thought a cruise was for the “newlywed or nearly dead” and those with “fanny packs and white tennis shoes.” Or, they might have believed it was all about stuffing one’s self at the midnight buffet.

Then, he says, they get on the expedition product and they say: “This isn’t what I thought cruising was all about.”

When that happens, then Conroy said those new-to-cruise guests also say: “Well, if they can run an expedition to Antarctica, they can probably do pretty well with a cruise that goes from Venice to Athens.”

In fact, “we’ve actually got a lot of people from expedition who’ve never thought about going on a cruise but have become cruisers because of their expedition experience,” Conroy emphasized. “It’s an unintended consequence that’s worked out very well for us.”

Lefebvre is always considering new potential itineraries and new ways to stand out – giving the example of the possibility of a trip from Australia around the Antarctic continent.

As for values he wants to give to Silversea as a brand, Lefebvre told the agents, travelers and media that “luxury isn’t an extra bottle of champagne; that’s a given for most people who cruise.”

Instead, “I perceive luxury as the opportunity to achieve unique experiences in a well-organized way and with support,” Lefebvre said.

He also sees the potential not only for more expedition ships for his company, but for positioning ships in certain destinations year-round, much as the line does in the Galapagos. Or, an expedition ship could spend a half year in one place, the other half of the year in another. It’s not always about an expedition ship calling at a port and just passing through.

Combrink spent an hour talking about the expedition product, how destinations and experiences are vetted, as well as how the line spends time ensuring the journey will be comfortable and authentic for guests. Travel Agent will cover that in another story in the near future.

Shanks said that people are becoming more adventurous, but “they don’t really know how to do it…it can become quite daunting, and we [as a brand with a sales force who understands expedition cruising] can help” agents educate customers.

Silversea Expeditions now constitutes some 30 percent of Silversea’s overall revenues, and formerly that total was a lot less, said Martinoli.  

“The financials are looking pretty good…and we’re able to combine the financial sustainability of the business with new ideas,” said Martinoli. “We’ve been quite successful.”

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