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Author: Guest/Wednesday, August 2, 2017/Categories: Interview, Cruise news
This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s (RCCL) decision to sell a 51% majority stake in subsidiary Pullmantur Group to Springwater Capital Group in 2016 prompted a change in the brand’s leadership. Jorge Vilches stepped down as president and CEO of the group, which incorporates Pullmantur Cruceros and Croisières de France, and was replaced by veteran cruise specialist Richard J. Vogel.
Vogel has a wealth of experience in the industry having spent nine years at TUI Cruises (another RCCL brand). He has been non-executive director at Saga Cruises since May 2016. His first months at Pullmantur Group have been busy.
“The seven months that I have been at the helm of the Pullmantur Group have been very intense,” says Vogel. “I spent almost all the first quarter seeking to understand the specifics of the company in regard to organisation, strengths and weaknesses, and how our different source markets are operating. For me the most important task was to understand our employees, and I don’t mean just in terms of the language. Now we’ve had this absolutely necessary immersion phase, we have started to implement some changes that, when combined, will represent a major transformation of Pullmantur in terms of product and organisation. One goal was to define clear responsibilities and competencies, but also work on long-term and more efficient itinerary planning, and the product itself.”
However, Vogel admits there have been some challenges. “Perhaps the main one has to do with the communication of our own product to customers,” he says. “We have to get better at highlighting what our distinctive attributes are, our value proposition, why we are unique and why customers should choose us, even though we don’t have the newest fleet on the market.”
In the future, Pullmantur aims to capitalise on the ‘huge’ demand in Spain and Latin America. “With a company like ours operating four vessels, the change in our business model in France – which undoubtedly will mean that we continue to work closely with travel agencies – is related to our needs in terms of deployment and the challenges that we face in the coming years,” Vogel comments. “Currently, we’re immersed in a process that takes us back to our origins, which are strongly rooted in Spanish and Latin American culture and customs, and constitute the essence of our DNA.”
While Spain and Latin America will play a fundamental role, France and other markets will remain very important for Pullmantur, Vogel says. “We will be happy to receive all those passengers who want to enjoy their holidays and a Spanish way of life. This certainly includes our French passengers and repeaters, as well as our loyal guests from other countries.”
Pullmantur operates four vessels – Zenith, Horizon, Monarch and Sovereign – so the line has had to decide how many different products and source markets it can and should serve, and adjust its strategy accordingly.
“Latin America is one of our main markets, together with Spain, and although it’s an area with great opportunities, instability is a variable that we should never lose sight of,” Vogel says. “We’re getting a very positive response from Colombia, Bolivia, Argentina and Chile and they’re countries where we see a lot of potential.”
Vogel adds that the brand has made some positive developments in the region in the 2016-2017 season. “As a result of our commitment to this market, we’ll operate there on a permanent basis throughout the year, which has resulted in a 40% increase in capacity,” he says. “We’ve also expanded our offer in the Caribbean by launching two new itineraries – Islands of the Caribbean and Legendary Caribbean – alongside our already successful Antilles & South Caribbean voyage. There will be two versions of the Islands of the Caribbean itinerary in 2017-2018 – Islands of the Caribbean & St. Maarten and Islands of the Caribbean & Barbados – to give our passengers greater options to discover the destination.”
Pullmantur will continue to explore new destinations in future. “At Pullmantur we are always looking to innovate and introduce new routes into our portfolio that conform to the market demands and that are attractive to potential guests,” notes Vogel. “However, this search for novelty must co-exist in perfect harmony with already established, consolidated itineraries and we design with a view to still being there in the future. Launching a new itinerary takes great effort from the operational point of view, as well as sales and marketing. For this reason, there must be a perfect balance. In addition, as part of our daily work we’re analysing how we can improve our existing deployment to increase passenger satisfaction – one of the main concepts around which all our decisions revolve.”
New ships are not currently on the horizon. “We are experiencing a key moment as a company; we are very focused on consolidating our product, the regions in which we operate, our priorities, and setting goals that lead us to the place that we want to occupy in the future,” explains Vogel. “This process is vital. Before we talk about new ships we have to stabilise our business, our brand and our position in the market. If all works as planned, I am sure we will have some options on the table.”
One area that Pullmantur always prioritises is complying with environmental legislation.
“At Pullmantur Group we are fully committed to protecting the environment,” confirms Vogel. “Not only do we comply with all environmental legislation, but we go one step further because our procedures are more stringent than international standards. Perhaps the exhaust regulations pose the greatest challenge for us. This leads to huge
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