|Among the sites that Voyages to Antiquity guests can explore on shore trips is the ancient Greek city of Paestum. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
If clients get excited viewing ancient ruins or listening to a lecture on the Roman World, rather than dancing at a disco or climbing a rock wall, you’ve probably identified the right type of enrichment-focused clients for Voyages to Antiquity (www.voyagestoantiquity.com).
The niche line, now in its third year of operations, takes guests on shore trips to explore such ancient sites as Paestum in Italy, Segesta in Sicily, Samos in Greece and Aphrodisias in Turkey, to name a few. Guests not only tour the sites but also hear about them from lecturers, authors and archaeologists onboard.
The line's Aegean Odyssey will sail this spring, summer and early fall in the Mediterranean, before positioning to India and the Far East, where it will operate nine new itineraries for winter 2012-2013.
While the mid-2013 schedule is not yet loaded or announced, Travel Agent talked with Mitchell J. Schlesinger, vice president of sales and marketing, Voyages to Antiquity, to get a sneak peek at the voyages.
|Mitchell J. Schlesinger, vice president of sales and marketing, Voyages to Antiquity // Photo courtesy of Voyages to Antiquity|
Sneak Peek at Mid-2013
From April to late October, Aegean Odyssey will be in the Mediterranean or the Black Sea. Voyages range from 10- to 14-nights, plus hotel add-ons. The mid-2013 brochure detailing all the moves will be released to agents about May 1.
“Basically, the schedule for mid-2013 has even a bit more into the western Mediterranean than this year,” says Schlesinger, noting that world conditions dictate that the line can’t count yet on putting North Africa and the Middle East – destinations the line’s clientele would typically love - into new itineraries.
“It’s quite unfortunate, because even if we thought some of these destinations would be calm in a year or even 15 months, it’s difficult to promote them now – and we have to continue to promote those destinations that are working for our brand,” Schlesinger says.
In addition, he notes that, unlike more mass market lines, Voyages to Antiquity works with alumni groups, the Smithsonian and archaeological organizations, who then promote specific voyages to their clients. “They put their programs out well in advance, so we don’t have the luxury of waiting to see if a particular destination is okay to include,” he emphasizes.
So the line’s enrichment cruises for mid-2013 will avoid North Africa and most of the Middle East and instead press as far west as Cannes, in France for an embarkation point, and as far west as Barcelona, Spain for a port call.
Mostly, though, Aegean Odyssey will keep sailing to the hot spots that the line’s archaeological and historically minded clients want - ancient sites in Italy, Sicily, Croatia, Greece and Turkey, as well as Black Sea ports.
Overall, the mid-2013 schedule is as follows:
Two Repositioning Cruises: The line will operate one cruise from Safaga to Istanbul (April 3) via Israel, and one voyage from Athens to Safaga (Oct. 28)
Two Mediterranean/Adriatic Voyages: Expect two voyages each between Istanbul and Athens (April 15 and Sept. 12), Athens and Venice (April 25 and Sept. 22), and Venice and Rome (May 7 and Oct. 4)
One Voyage Each in the Mediterranean/Adriatic: The line will operate one cruise between Rome and Cannes (May 19), Cannes and Venice (May 29), Venice and Athens (June 12), Athens and Rome (June 24), Rome and Istanbul (July 6), and Rome and Athens (Oct. 16).
Two Black Sea Voyages: Based on the popularity of this itinerary this year, the line plans two 11-night Black Sea voyages sailing roundtrip from Istanbul (July 18 and Sept. 1).
Three Charter Voyages: These charters will operate between July 29 and Sept. 1, typically the hottest part of the summer, on three itineraries from Istanbul to Rome, roundtrip from Rome, and Rome to Istanbul.
The mid-2013 line-up will be available for agents to book starting about May 1, once the brochure is officially released.
What’s different than this year? “We have a small change in that we previously have sailed roundtrip from Athens, and we’ll instead be doing two Athens to Istanbul voyages for more Greece and Turkey combinations,” says Schlesinger.
“There is enough pull for Turkey and we’re finding that when we put in voyages between the two we seem to do better, and we can provide more in-depth sightseeing," he says.
Voyages to Antiquity will, as it does now, provide overnight hotel stays in such cities as Istanbul, Athens, Rome and Cairo, according to Schlesinger. He says that when the ship is in Venice, an overnight is provided for guests on the ship, given the cost of accommodations ashore.
Cannes is a new port for the line this year, and in spring 2013 the line will have one embarkation and one disembarkation at the French port.
In addition, the Rome to Cannes cruise departing on May 19, 2013 will call at new ports of call for the line -- Barcelona, the island of Elba and Sete, France. Sete is the gateway to the Medieval city of Carcasonne.
|Voyages to Antiquity guests walk the streets of ancient Herculaneum, destroyed by the eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. // Photo by Susan J. Young|
The Latest Trends
Given the line’s niche of archaeology, history and cultural cruising, the clientele for Voyages to Antiquity is very targeted; agents should look for clients who love ancient sites and traipsing through ruins such as those of Herculaneum, destroyed by Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
But even in its first year of operations in 2010, the line saw guests who sailed in spring returning to book a fall cruise. “It takes time to build, but we’re now seeing a lot of repeaters,” Schlesinger said.
The new winter 2012-2013 Far East program is doing well, he says, citing a three-prong booking pattern for those types of voyages. The first wave comes very early, 15-16 months out, and he says the line got a good amount of bookings from that earliest wave when it announced the cruises late last year.
The second wave comes from clients booking eight or nine months out, and Schlesinger says that’s now happening. Many of the line’s big group partners such as Smithsonian Journey and alumni associations are just this month going out to their members or clients with promotions for the Asian voyages.
The third wave will come closer in, he says, noting that some people don’t want to book until it’s closer to the sail date. But overall, “we’re quite pleased with the bookings, and people are having a strong reaction to the value of the bookings,” with shore excursions and hotel inclusions.
What’s selling well? The first two Indian cruises offered in the upcoming Asia schedule “booked faster than we expected,” he said. Those are already 85 percent booked.
More Single Cabins
If clients sailed on the line last year, they’ll find the ship hardware and onboard product essentially the same as it was then. The line made significant changes to the product last year, upgrading the food service and adding the al fresco dining at night with tablecloths and waiter service, for example.
Perhaps the biggest change in the ship's hardware is that the line has found space onboard to create more dedicated, single cabins. Previously it had 16 of those. Now, there are 24 dedicated single accommodations.
“That’s a very intrinsic part of our program,” he said, noting that Voyages to Antiquity carries a large number of singles. “Easily, we can have 40 singles on a sailing,” Schlesinger stressed.
In addition to its single cabins, the line has a single-friendly policy. Single supplements start at just 25 percent, and then increase depending on cabin category. Last year, the line had no single supplement on certain voyages.
While the ship, when totally full, has a capacity of 390, the line says the passenger count is typically around 350 because of the large number of single clients.
Inclusive Air Changes
Last year, the line offered free air to some destinations, and guests paid the taxes, which were about $550. But when the U.S. Department of Transportation rules changed, the line had to adapt.
To make things simple, it now provides an air add-on for anywhere in Europe at $595 and that essentially accounts for those taxes and fees. In the Far East, the air add-on is $995, $1,095 or $1,195, depending on destination.
“We want to fly guests, as we want to control their experience,” says Schlesinger. “We want to know where they are and want to take care of them. We have a high percentage of guests who take the air and like it for the cocooning feeling.”
He says this is particularly important for exotic Far East locales. For a guest coming into Bangkok after midnight, for example, the line wants to be sure they’re being handled by the line’s representative for transfers to the hotel.
Schlesinger says the line wants to wrap its arms around the guest, in terms of the experience, and “it’s our responsibility” in far-flung destinations. While guests might do just fine booking their air tickets to destinations in the Caribbean or Alaska, he believes, “when you’re heading to the other side of the earth, it probably makes a bit more sense for us to be responsible for every aspect of your vacation.”
Stressing the Value
Schlesinger says his brand is “virtually all-inclusive." Although it does not provide free cocktails, it does provide complimentary wine, beer and soft drinks with dinner, which is something that appeals to the line’s premium clientele.
Voyages to Antiquity’s fares include transfers, baggage handling, gratuities, shore trips, pre- or post-hotels in many cases, wine with dinner and so on. So Schlesinger stresses that agents are paid commission on many more features than those included with most cruises.
If agents type “cultural cruises” as a search in Google, Voyages to Antiquity comes up at the top of the list. So for clients interested in enrichment, “this is where the travel agents can soar, and they’re getting smarter and smarter in paying attention to the psychographics of their own clientele,” stresses Schlesinger.
“As an enrichment brand, we’re three times bigger [ship-wise] than Lindblad Expeditions or InnerSea Discoveries in Alaska,” stresses Schlesinger. “While we're a small ship line, we operate a big ship for our genre."