Carving the path to a crystal-clear future

Tom Wolber tells Sam Ballard how Crystal Cruises is maintaining success and momentum following a rapid period of growth in the ocean, river and expedition sectors

Carving the path to a crystal-clear future
Crystal Bach is one of five river vessels taking guests to destinations across Europe

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

It won’t have gone unnoticed, but things have quietened down somewhat at Crystal Cruises. A couple of years ago, the company made a series of expansion announcements at a rate so fast that it took everyone by surprise.

River ships, expedition vessels, residences, refurbishing the SS United States and air cruises on Dreamliners were all openly being talked about at one point or another. While many cynical industry folk predicted that little of it would come to fruition, much of it has – albeit a streamlined version under new leadership. However, one thing is very clear: there is a change underway at Crystal Cruises.

“My priority in 2018 was to stabilise Crystal after several years of rapid-fire growth that included the addition of river and yacht vessels, as well as plans for our expedition ship, Crystal Endeavor, which launches next year,” explains Tom Wolber, president and CEO of Crystal. “We wanted to ensure that Crystal continues to be the luxury travel experience our guests have come to love and that we are a pleasure to do business with for our travel partners around the world. This year and beyond, my team and I have been focusing on how Crystal can continue to improve. Because we recognise that even for the world’s best, there are ways we can always be better.”

Having recently been to Crystal’s sales gala – where agents had to have made more than US$1 million worth of bookings to attend – Wolber has formed a clear direction for the company: steady the ship and don’t rest on your laurels. “If you think you are the best, then you are probably not,” he says. “It’s all about doing better with our guests and better with our partners than ever before.”

Wolber is seen by Crystal’s owners as a steady hand that will be able to steer the company into its next phase. Having previously worked at Disney Cruise Line, he knows the industry inside out and has been able to take key lessons that he learnt there and apply them to Crystal. And, despite Disney and Crystal being two companies that represent very different parts of the industry, Wolber finds that the parallels are striking.

“There are some important similarities between Crystal and Disney Cruise Line,” he says. “Most notably their loyal audiences who love each brand and feel personally invested in the experiences, as well as the dedicated crew who have been with their respective companies for years. In addition, both lines are an undisputed leader in their respective sectors of the market.”

The point about a loyal audience is key and one that explains Crystal’s expansion. Customers who have cruised for years onboard either Crystal Serenity or Crystal Symphony have had no choice but to travel with other companies if they ever wanted to take a different type of cruise. Crystal has now plugged those holes with the European river fleet. Crystal Esprit provides a boutique yachting experience and, next year, Crystal Endeavor will introduce the line’s first expedition offering.

“Crystal Endeavor is generating tremendous buzz and interest and we are seeing strong demand for the rare and remote adventure she will offer, such as our 2021 Northeast Passage voyage and elsewhere across the globe,” says Wolber.

Soon, a new series of Diamond-class ships will boost the line’s ocean cruise capacity.

“We are currently perfecting design plans for the new oceangoing Diamond-class ships, and I will share these details once we are ready,” comments Wolber. “We are excited about this new class of ship, which will feature several innovative elements that will take luxury to the next level, but still offer the elements that our guests have come to love.”

These elements are a defining part of the Crystal brand – at least in the eyes of the company’s loyal guests. It’s why, regardless of what vessel they board – be it a river ship on the Danube, Crystal Esprit in the Seychelles or Crystal Serenity in the Caribbean – they will find familiar elements to make them feel at home.

“Through every new venture, ship, programme, itinerary and onboard experience, Crystal’s focus remains on delivering the incomparable personalised service and standard of excellence for each guest who embarks with us,” says Wolber. “It is this commitment that has earned Crystal the acclaim of travellers and industry professionals since our inception, including more ‘World’s Best’ awards than any other cruise line in history. However, it is our exceedingly high rate of returning guests that is the clearest sign of the success of our mission – time and time again they choose to explore the world with Crystal. And, as luxury travellers continue to evolve and set their sights on new experiences, we continue to ensure that the renowned ‘Crystal Experience’ is the best in the world, anticipating and exceeding their wishes at every turn.”

Next year will see the line celebrate its 30th anniversary, a fitting testament to the brand’s longevity during multiple financial downturns and countless other external headwinds. So how will the company celebrate reaching the milestone? In typical style, Wolber’s answer is understated.

“To celebrate our 30th year of award-winning personal luxury in 2020, we’re offering new two-for-one fares, limited-time ‘Book Now Savings’ and exclusive anniversary savings on a collection of 30 worldwide voyages,” he explains. “Guests travelling with us by ocean, river, yacht and expedition ships will also enjoy special onboard events and receive commemorative gifts, including a 30th Anniversary Cookbook and more.”

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By Sam Ballard
15 January 2020

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