Holland America's Gus Antorcha Talks Alaska, Inclusivity and More

Travel Agent interviewed Gus Antorcha, president of Holland America Line, late last week about his cruise line's potential to sail in Alaska this summer, as well as the recent "Have It All" fare inclusivity and whether that adjusts any premium-versus-luxury classification of the storied brand. 

Here's our first story on these topics, with more details on other marketplace trends planned in a few days. 

Is the Big-Ship Alaska Season Over?

Is the big-ship Alaska season over, given that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) policies are preventing all but the smallest cruise ships from operating from U.S. ports?

"I have not given up on Alaska," emphasized Antorcha. "We've had tremendous support from the congressional delegation and we’re taking the CDC at their word. They said July, and so, we are as a corporation, as an industry working with the administration, the CDC" to hopefully make that happen.

Gus Antorcha
Gus Antorcha, president
of Holland America Line

Citing significant support from states where cruising is highly important economically—such as Florida, Texas and Alaska—Antorcha expressed optimism. “I’m hopefully optimistic that we’ll be able to sail to Alaska this summer and we’re working very hard to try and do that.”

But, at the same time, he acknowledged that “I’m generally optimistic” and “things change weekly.” So, if the line discovers in a couple of weeks that’s it’s not doable, yes, he said, it might have to cancel. For now, though, “we are very focused.”

Is HAL Premium or Pushing Luxury?

During the past few years, many cruise industry leaders have told Travel Agent that the once-traditional “cruise segment labels”—classifying cruise lines as either contemporary, premium or luxury—just don’t make much sense anymore.

Those definitions certainly aren't as cut-and-dry as they were in the past. Segment lines have shifted back and forth or blurred, depending on such product factors as inclusivity, guest preferences for size of ship and/or onboard activities, the rise of suite enclaves and other factors. 

For example, during the past few years, competitor Celebrity Cruises has added a new suite enclave, The Retreat. It’s also enhanced dining, entertainment, spa and activity choices in a product that’s now billed as "Modern Luxury."

Similarly, Antorcha's predecessor, Orlando Ashford, greatly enhanced Holland America's dining and entertainment options. Last week, Antorcha’s team took another step, introducing the new “Have It All” package.

“We’ve done a version of this historically,” Antorcha noted, but generally those were promotional offerings during Wave Season and included only certain elements of the current offering. Now, the "Have It All" fare is considered a more permanent fixture, based on on intensive research over the past few months with past cruisers and with travel partners who’ve been a big part at examining the product. 

The line also assessed what both cruise and land-based competitors, including all-inclusive Caribbean resorts, were doing. So, the new inclusive fare option was designed to "drive guests' certainty about planning their vacation and what’s included and not having to worry about stuff," Antorcha said. "There's a portion of our guests who really value and react well to having a fare that includes onboard experiences."

So, at the time of booking, the advisor (based on client interests) can select the "Have It All" fare, which delivers shore excursions, drinks, specialty dining and more as part of the fare. But those guests who still prefer a more basic fare with fewer inclusions can opt for that too.

Travel Agent asked why Holland America didn’t just go all-inclusive. “Well, choice still matters,” he responded. “I felt personally it was important to continue with a standard fare.”

The line chose the aspects to include that were cited as most valuable in the research. Shore excursions proved to be the highest “wish list” items for inclusivity and other top-rated perks including specialty dining were also included. But Antorcha says that if some guests like spa services and shopping as their top onboard activities instead, then "they can still stitch together—put their vacation together—the way it makes sense for them.”

While the fares have only been out in the market a week, Antorcha said "the anecdotal feedback has been incredible from the guests. So, I fully expect it will book very, very well."

Compared with previous promotions with elements of the new inclusive fare offering, “this is much more comprehensive,” he emphasized.  But does it shift the line more into the luxury segment? Given recent developments, “I think that [inclusivity as a] distinguishing factor between lines at this premium-luxury level is melting away,” Antorcha says. “I don’t see that as a difference anymore between the lines" in the premium-luxury space.

Instead, he believes, it's more about ship size. Pure luxury lines typically have ships under 1,000 guests and many are much smaller. Holland America’s average guest count is about 2,000 onboard, higher for Pinnacle-class, lower for R-class. “So, I think the main difference in the segment is size of ship, as the size of the ship gives you a different experience,” he stressed. Not all luxury guests think alike or want the same things on vacation. 

Antorcha says Princess’ ability to add features on their larger ships is “pretty amazing.” He sees Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis-class ships and Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras “pushing even larger.” He quips: “You push large enough and you can even add a roller coaster onboard,” which has happened on Mardi Gras.

Thus, Antorcha sees a trade-off in how people characterize a brand, acknowledging that the more intimate cruise products have a closer-knit-experience and fewer people onboard, yet also those ships typically have fewer activity options or one-of-a-kind, spectacular features.

But as far as inclusivity continuing as a prime differentiator between the traditionally premium or luxury competitors, it's fading away—not something he now sees: “Everyone’s doing it."

Travel Agent's second piece in a few days will include more from Antorcha—so stay tuned to this space. 

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