If your clients love history, the classics and ancient ruins, Voyages to Antiquity has new ports for 2012 and enhanced dining options.
TravelAgentCentral.com spoke recently with Mitchell Schlesinger, the line’s vice president of marketing and sales, about what’s new for 2012, how the line is coping with North African itinerary changes, what’s new on the ship, and what trends in booking the line is seeing?
New Ports for 2012
The 2012 schedule will be released soon, but Schlesinger gave TravelAgentCentral.com a “sneak peek” at some new options. For example, agents can expect maiden calls for the line at such destinations as Izmir, Turkey; Barcelona, Spain; and Preveza, Greece, to name a few.
In addition, Voyages to Antiquity’s Aegean Odyssey will sail further north on the west side of Italy, add turnarounds in Cannes, France, and add maiden calls at Livorno (for Florence) and Marseilles, France. The line will also add overnight calls in Corfu and Marseilles.
And given the strong demand for its Black Sea Cruise to Ukraine, Russia and Georgia this year, the line will repeat that in summer 2012.
Consumer demand is also strong for the line’s itineraries that begin or end in Venice, Athens and Istanbul, so Schlesinger says agents can expect to see a bit more of that for 2012.
The North African Factor
Voyages to Antiquity’s first cruises of the 2011 season—starting with the first U.S. departure on March 26—were two southern Mediterranean itineraries spanning three weeks. Both voyages had hefty emphasis on North African ports.
"Given the regional political turmoil, the line cancelled those two initial sailings this year. We’re filled with contingency plans but when you have guests so interested in a particular destination [like Libya], it’s sort of like scheduling a trip to India but not taking people to see the Taj Mahal,” Schlesinger emphasized. “Then they don’t want to go on the cruise because that was their extreme interest. So, we had no choice.”
As a result, Voyages to Antiquity’s first U.S. departure of the season is now scheduled for April 15 with a cruise from Rome to Venice. The line’s next scheduled cruises to North African destinations are in November.
Given that the situation in Egypt has improved, Schlesinger expects the line to operate its end-of-season departures that include Egypt.
“Our itineraries that include a pre- or post-cruise stay in Cairo are going to remain as scheduled,” said Schlesinger.
As for Egypt’s return as a major tourism destination, he says tour operators and river cruise companies are already going back and as long that works and there are no incidents, “that’s going to speak volumes for the destination,” he said.
One of the line’s November itineraries to North Africa includes a stop in Tunisia, which he believes is easy to alter if required. The line also is now evaluating the status of the final cruise of the year from Cairo to Malta, with a decision on that to be made soon, he said.
Voyages to Antiquity is already planning some departures in spring 2012 that include Egypt.
“That’s how confident we are of Egypt, while obviously much less so in places such as Libya and we’re going to keep an eye on Tunisia,” Schlesinger said.
When the line first launched last year, there were a few hiccups with some aspects of the ship and the product delivery. Those growing pains are now over as the line has updated equipment and is continuing to refine the product, according to Schlesinger.
For example, the line replaced older tenders with upgraded ones that have better engines.
“We’re also upgrading the dining onboard, especially in the Terrace Café,” he says. “They’ll be more options, more stations and more free-flowing grilling at lunch and dinner, so we’re going to upgrade the dining from that perspective.”
He says the line is just starting its second year of operation, “so you can really feel the traction we’re gaining as a brand. So any plans for a second ship? “Not that I’m aware of,” says Schlesinger.
Bookings, Groups and Charters
At the moment, Schlesinger says Voyages to Antiquity is just shy of 80 percent load factor for the whole season. Not surprisingly, given its focus on ancient sites and destination-intensive tours, Voyages to Antiquity has an increasingly productive partnership with the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA).
“They’ve expanded from five group departures to 15 in 2011, and on all departures where they have a group, they are also contributing a lecturer to our lecture program,” stressed Schlesinger. “So it’s [a plus] for the ship’s lecture program [and all passengers], not just for their group onboard.”
He said AIA books departures throughout the year except in the core of the summer.
“But that’s okay, as we’ve ended up chartering four sailings this summer,” he noted.
Charter requests are on the rise, as the cruise industry continues to build bigger ships, even in the luxury segment with The Yachts of Seabourn and Silversea Cruises opting for bigger new ships.
“We’re here with a ship that’s comfortably 300 to 350 passengers and there just aren’t a lot of ships like that in the marketplace anymore,” Schlesinger emphasized.
Trends in Clientele
In its first year of service, Voyages to Antiquity operated 14-night voyages. While perfect for the ancient history enthusiast who was retired, many of whom were cruisers in their 60s and older, the voyages were a bit too long for some boomers and younger professionals who were still working.
To broaden its clientele, in 2011, the line converted all itineraries to cruise-tours, with cruises lasting seven- to 12-nights and related pre- and post-cruise land options. The goal was to attract the “younger half” of the boomer generation, those ages 40 and over.
“And we’re seeing signs of that, so that’s good,” Schlesinger noted.
“So, the full itineraries are sort of the same for the core audience, but for someone who has a little time and they see an itinerary they’re fascinated with, it’s [doable] as they don’t have to do 15 or 16 days roundtrip,” he said. Those clients might take the cruise only or perhaps a 12-night cruise and land option.
One surprising trend?
“In the summer months, we’re seeing families bringing older teenagers,” Schlesinger says. “We tell everyone ‘please nobody under 12’ as the product has no children’s programs, but again parents with older teenagers who are inquisitive and who they feel will appreciate this kind of travel…they are coming.”
Training Programs for Agents
In terms of information for agents on the line’s website, the line first needed to build its portfolio of robust product information.
“Over the next few months, we’ll finalize getting the travel agent section of the website up,” said Schlesinger.
Agents will likely see that in the third quarter of 2011.