Interview with Alberto Aliberti, President, Atlas Ocean Voyages

When it comes to 2021, “for us, it’s a good story that’s getting better every day,” says Alberto Aliberti, president, Atlas Ocean Voyages. The new "luxe-adventure" line’s first, new ship, World Navigator, began sailing the Mediterranean last August.

That new 196-passenger upscale ship will operate in the Caribbean this month before repositioning to Argentina to operate  the winter 2021-2022 season of Antarctica itineraries. World Navigator will be joined by sister ships World Traveller and World Seeker in 2022, as well as World Adventurer and World Discoverer in 2023.

At 9,930 tons, the ships all are certified as Polar Category C and Ice Class 1B. Inside, they’re designed for pampering with multiple dining options, spacious suites with butler service and SeaSpa, the first L’Occitane spa at sea.  

World Navigator is receiving positive social media post reviews from advisors who’ve sailed.  Among them is Steve Bloss, owner, Worldwide Cruise Associates, Fort Lauderdale, FL, who wrote on his Facebook page that he’d arrived aboard hoping the small ship “would live up to the hype of a new five-star luxury ship and brand. It did indeed.”

In another development, Atlas is expanding its staffing by 60 percent and has launched a new global branding campaign, “At Last…Atlas,” to introduce the new brand and build consumer demand.  That said, as with other cruise lines, it’s also navigated through some pandemic-era challenges.

Travel Agent spoke one-on-one with Aliberti about the status of operations, trends, challenges, opportunities, travel advisor policies, itineraries, charter air flights and more.  

2021 Challenges

In readying to welcome guests aboard, “we had to go with employees from sources that we didn’t expect, and likewise, not go with others that we were planning on,” Aliberti explains. Atlas could only schedule crew members from certain countries to travel to the ship.

Alberto Aliberti, president, Atlas Ocean Voyages
Alberto Aliberti, president, Atlas Ocean Voyages (Photo by Atlas Ocean Voyages)

Even more daunting was that once these crew members, reached World Navigator, COVID-19 regulations required they be quarantined aboard. That put a kink in the early training and team building efforts. But as the summer unfolded, “the good thing is that we have been able to continuously improve on the service,” Aliberti says.

One plus for Atlas, which is owned by Portuguese travel-and-tourism company, Mystic Invest Holdings, is that Mystic handles all of Atlas’ shipboard operations, hotel operations, nautical departments and anything that has to do with the ship’s operation.

Mystic has more than 25 years of travel and tourism experience with ocean and river cruises, tours and attractions, and its Mystic Cruises brand handles operations for multiple river and ocean brands. “It’s been helpful,” Aliberti tells Travel Agent. “That’s one of the reasons we were able to spin up our shipboard product so quickly.”

Another challenge was that the line had a positive COVID-19 case during World Navigator’s inaugural cruise. “We were fortunate,” though, he acknowledges. Because of those sister brands, "our protocols were well-proven and we enacted them immediately, so from a guest safety perspective, there were zero problems, zero spread and everyone was taken care of.”

Operationally, Aliberti says that the line lost one inaugural cruise day waiting to get squared away with a visit to one port, which proved frustrating, but that the journey ended on a positive note: “We were able to deliver all the guests to Cairo for a wonderful tour, wonderful private evening and return flights home, all, of course at our expense.”

So now that it’s been sailing for several months, what’s Atlas’ biggest challenge right now? Alberti is quick to respond: “That’s the ‘close-in’ uncertainty of places we visit. That’s unfortunate because we had a wonderful cruise and event planned in Barbados [this month], which we had to cancel, because their arrival requirements were not met because of some of our port calls in Europe.”  

That move also affected the previous cruise itinerary set for disembarkation there. So, Atlas has regrouped to develop a new Caribbean itinerary. The ship will then “deadhead” to Montevideo, Uruguay, before beginning its winter Antarctica program home porting in Ushuaia, Argentina.

But Alberti says the issue for all cruise lines is this: “Close-in you’re being forced to retool cruises when you really should be focusing on next year and the following year. Those [situations] have been a challenge for the itinerary planning.”

Porto Restaurant on Atlas Ocean Voyages' Word Navigator
World Navigator offers multiple dining venues including Porto Restaurant, shown above. (Photo by Atlas Ocean Voyages)

Early Voyages & Guest Trends

Whether for bookings on expeditionary voyages or itineraries that may have a softer adventure/cultural angle, Atlas is seeing several types of guests.

First, the line is seeing a lot of trade professionals eager to see the product and “we’re being very generous with advisors’ rates,” he says. Right now, Atlas is setting aside a small part of the ship’s accommodations on every cruise for advisor travel. “We want to give them an opportunity to get on and experience the brand,” says Aliberti.

He continues: As for consumers, “we’re getting a lot of very experienced cruisers -- early adopters who want to give this new luxury brand a try and want to find out what we mean by ‘luxe adventure.’”

Those guests tend to be tried-and-true travelers or cruisers who want to try something different. In terms of the luxe-adventure approach, “quite frankly, it seems like people are really getting it and people are enjoying what we’re doing,” he adds.

Cruisers are also skewing a little younger than the typical ocean cruiser on an upscale or luxury line. Age-wise, Atlas is seeing many passengers who are in their upper 50s to low 60s. But Aliberti also believes that “right now, very senior cruisers are still taking a wait-and-see approach to see the way the virus goes.”

Travel Agent asked if he was concerned about too many expedition ships launching or joining the expedition segment through 2023 and beyond. Simply put, he’s not: “The expedition space is being positively helped by the current situation because of the size of our ships – less than 200 guests."

Whether the cruise itinerary is expeditionary in nature or, alternatively, luxe-adventure with an appealing or unique cultural twist, “onboard we’re still going to offer a fine and elegant experience.”

Aliberti admits to having been a bit nervous working with designers who were not from the cruise industry but that the final product is proof that “they really nailed it. He says guests will have “a definite sense of wow” when entering the ship.  

Horizon Stateroom on Atlas Ocean Voyages' World Navigator
Living area of a Horizon Stateroom on Atlas Ocean Voyages' World Navigator. (Photo by Atlas World Voyages)

Growing MICE Interest

While many cruise industry challenges exist in the 2021 marketplace, unexpected opportunities await too.  For Aliberti, the biggest opportunity revolves around “our concept” – a luxe-adventure slant, pampering product and small-ship size.

SeaSpa by L'Occitane Therapy Room on World Navigator
Guests will discover upscale pampering spaces on World Navigator. Its SeaSpa by L'Occitane therapy room is shown above. (Photo by Atlas Ocean Voyages)

“But the second opportunity which frankly hit us a lot faster than we’d expected is that we are really getting a lot of interest now from the MICE (meetings, incentive, conference and exhibition travel) community because of the size of our vessels.”

Brokers waited until the line sailed and then looked at reports from those who’ve been aboard. Aliberti personally received three broker calls immediately after the first cruise. 

So, Atlas is moving fast on the MICE front. “I’m interviewing a person to start up a MICE department in our company,” explains Aliberti. “We didn’t expect to have to do that for another year. But we have to spin off our MICE area.”

All-Inclusive Perks

The line’s signature “All Inclusive All The Way” product includes such perks as complimentary roundtrip air travel, choice of a shore excursion at every port, unlimited premium wine and spirits, international beers and coffees, prepaid gratuities, polar parkas, emergency medical evacuation insurance, WiFi and L’Occitane bath amenities.

Finetuning, though, is continuing. On the WiFi front, “we’re trying to find the formula on our Internet," he acknowledges. "What’s important is getting that balance so that everyone can get the included access within the physical constraints of the systems onboard right now as well as the line’s future systems.”

World Navigator' Verandah Stateroom
Horizon Stateroom on World Navigator (Photo by Atlas Ocean Voyages)

The line's all inclusive perks also include air charter flights for Antarctica itineraries. Aliberti says it will be the first time a cruise line will conduct charters as a normal operating process for all Antarctica voyages.

Atlas had not yet officially disclosed its air charter carrier at press time, but Travel Agent has learned that it's National Airlines, which will use an A330-200 aircraft for the flights.

The charters will be for the exclusive use of Atlas' guests. The line isn't simply buying into existing air charters. 

One unexpected perk for guests is that while Atlas initially arranged the charters as a service and convenience (given air trip length and to facilitate the travel), "it’s now turning out to be a safety enhancement," according to Aliberti. "We test guests before they get on the plane in the U.S, and keep them in a bubble until they get on the ship in Ushuaia, Argentina.

Initially, the air charter was planned as a nonstop flight. But to meet Argentinian requirements for pilot rest restrictions, the charter operator will make a quick aircraft “technical stop” in Santiago, Chile, to swap pilots. "However, we’re doing it in Atlas Ocean Voyages style and we’re planning it for a champagne breakfast,” he emphasizes. 

So, guests on the charter flight will awaken in the morning and be escorted to a champagne/mimosa breakfast just outside the plane in a private air-side area. After breakfast, they’ll reboard the plane, which will be piloted by the new flight crew. Since it’s air-side, Aliberti says that “they won’t be going back through [Chilean] immigration or anything like that."

In addition, Atlas has adjusted the flight schedules so that after the plane lands at the final destination in Ushuaia, guests will get off, be escorted to immigration and then immediately to the ship. So, local authorities are considering that process an appropriate "bubble." In addition, Atlas will test the flight crews and anyone with direct guest interaction

Travel Advisor Policies

Commission-wise, “right now, we’re at 15 percent base commission for this year,” Aliberti says. “I can’t promise it’s going to stay that high, but it Is going to stay through the new year," sometime in late 2021 or early 2022.

Because air tickets (including the air charter flight on an Antarctica itinerary) are included in the cruise fare, the air is essentially commissionable.

In addition, Atlas offers advisors 10 percent commission on all pre-cruise purchases. That includes shore excursions and any other pre-purchased products.

Future cruise bookings made onboard are fully commissionable to the advisor who originally booked the guest. If the guest is traveling independently, then Atlas will give them an opportunity to book through an advisor and, when the guest returns home, they can choose an advisor of their choice.  

New Itinerary Horizons

Alberto Aliberti, president, Atlas Ocean Voyages on World Navigator
Alberto Aliberti says the first three ships' itineraries are mapped out, but he'll evaluate the potential for 28-to-40-day grand voyages or even a World Cruise after that.  (Photo by Atlas Ocean Voyages)

Aliberti says the line’s itineraries for the first three ships are now mapped out. As mentioned earlier, World Navigator will be in the Caribbean this month, then head for Antarctica and sail in Europe and the Arctic starting in spring 2022.

Launching next spring, World Traveller, will sail in the Mediterranean. “We didn’t plan on going to the Mediterranean but there’s so much pent-up demand for next summer there,” he says, mentioning that many other lines’ ships are heading instead to Alaska to match up with their pent-up demand there. After the Mediterranean, World Traveller will head for Mexico’s Yucatan, the Panama Canal and Central America.

“Then, the third ship is really exciting in 2023, as it’s heading east, down through the Red Sea, and we’re working on some [yet undisclosed] very exciting things for the Red Sea,” Aliberti adds. Those schedules have not yet loaded, but Alberti says that third ship will also sail to Southeast Asia and will operate one – possibly more -- Antarctica sailings from New Zealand.

“And when we get to the fourth ship, we’re going to start considering World Cruises or extended global segments” of between 28 and 40 days in length, he adds.

Growth at HQ

Atlas’ headquarters – where Aliberti is based – is in the heart of downtown Fort Lauderdale. “We’re actually expanding our office by an increase of about 60 percent,” he tells Travel Agent. “We’re hiring.”

Atlas is taking over the other side of the floor in its existing high-rise building. “We’re going to do a whole new reservations course very soon” he says. Schedules for the second ship are out now, and shortly after the third ship schedules are announced, possibly later this year, “we’re expanding our reservations.”

The line also plans to expand its national sales force and add more back-of-house technical positions. “Obviously, with more ships we’re increasing our [marketing] budget, and we’re definitely expanding in marketing,” he notes.

Aliberti says Amy Hiles-Maynard, the brand’s vice president – marketing, is retiring soon, so “we’re looking for a top-level senior executive in marketing.” Hiles-Maynard will remain with the brand until that’s firmed up. She's been instrumental in developing the “At Last…Atlas” global campaign that welcomes travelers to “come back to something brand new.”

Parting Thoughts

Since Aliberti has sailed on World Navigator, we wondered what his favorite ship spot is? “It’s really easy,” he says. “My favorite spot on the ship is the Dome Lounge." Nestled atop the ship, it’s quickly become the place to be in the late evenings. 

Dome Lounge, World Navigator - Atlas Ocean Voyages
Dome Lounge on World Navigator (Photo by Atlas Ocean Voyages)

"It gets loose, it gets fun and it brings people together,” he quips, noting that the brand attracts “a community of light-spirited travelers onboard, and they do tend to end up in the Dome to mix, mingle and for people get to know each other.” Because of the way the seating is arranged, people can sit safely yet communally.

Speaking about the pandemic, is the cruise industry at the beginning, middle or end of pandemic response? He responds this way for the brand: “Considering that we are primarily and nearly completely North American [in our] passengers, I think we’re definitely 'over the hump' because of the prevalence of vaccinations now. We require everyone to be vaccinated.”

He also believes the cruise industry is also “over the hump with getting our operations in line to be safe,” given the vaccination rate. Plus, he cites the industry's proactive, sound protocols established to respond to any sort of a COVID-19 situation, not only onboard but in destinations too.   

As a result, “we’re just in a situation now where we’re finetuning,” he believes. Aliberti adds that the biggest cruise industry challenge remains those “close-in changes to itineraries” required to meet often rapidly evolving destination entry and protocol requirements. .

For more information on Atlas Ocean Voyages, visit