Creating a future built on tradition

Holland America Line’s Gus Antorcha speaks with Susan Parker about how the cruise line is building on its 150-year history to continue growing in the future 

Creating a future built on tradition

Holland America Line

By Susan Parker |

There are not too many cruise brands that boast a 150-year history, but Holland America Line (Holland America) celebrated this milestone with some pride in 2023.  

President Gus Antorcha takes the brand’s heritage very seriously. “Coming out of the pause following the pandemic we very much embraced and focused on our traditions, our expertise and our commitment to providing the best service at sea,” he says. “One of the original branding taglines was that it’s good to be in a well-run ship, and we still live up to that today. 

“When you build a good reputation over a long period of time you build trust. Although important, it’s not just the hardware and the onboard features that leads to this reputation; it’s the destinations, how we take care of our guests, how we make it easy and how we are going to do things right by them.” 

Holland America’s core guests – or ‘unwinding silvers’ as the brand refers to them – include retired couples, friends, empty nesters and multigenerational families. The brand tailors its itineraries both to these guests and new-to-cruise travellers.  

Figures released on 24 January 2024 suggest this strategy is working. On 16 January, bookings topped the previous record set on 11 July 2023 by 18 per cent. And Holland America achieved its largest-ever booking week during the wave season on the week ending 19 January. One-third of these bookings were for its popular Alaska cruises and 22 per cent were reservations for cruises in 2025 or later. Not only are booking levels increasing but the brand has also seen higher prices, according to statistics from parent company Carnival Corporation. 

“Clearly people love the product, they are very comfortable cruising,” says Antorcha. “I think that’s because they know we are very focused on safety, our passengers, the crew, our ships and the ports.” 

Holland America Line Westerdam

Holland America is planning longer itineraries, for example Westerdam (pictured) will sail a 35-day circumnavigation of Australia from Sydney in November 2024

Holland America offers itineraries of different lengths to give passengers numerous choices. For example, it has expanded its ‘Legendary Voyages’ programme (voyages lasting 25 to 59 days) to add more choice. “We really increased the amount and focused on the product onboard,” says Antorcha. “Coming out of the pandemic, there was a desire to travel and travel further. International travel also became difficult and expensive, so part of what we started doing was doing longer roundtrips out of the USA. We are actually the cruise line with the most extensive offer to cruise to places like the South Pacific, Asia, Antarctica and the Mediterranean, all roundtrip from the USA. 

Holland America is not only creating more ex-US trips so people do not have to fly but is also testing the waters with a stop in Dover, England, in 2025 on its European itineraries to give British guests a chance to embark/disembark from home. “This will be very important in growing our UK market,” says Antorcha, adding that the brand’s largest markets are the USA, Netherlands, Canada and the UK. 

To ensure guest satisfaction, Holland America regularly researches what its market wants. “It is about positioning the brand to where, demographically and psychographically, we know where our guests are,” explains Antorcha. 

In 2023, Holland America became the official cruise line of the Professional Pickleball Association and has now implemented the sport on all its ships in partnership with the association. In addition, the brand introduced a standalone restaurant serving Asian-inspired cuisine on Nieuw Amsterdam with Chef Morimoto in December and will be rolling out pop-up versions across the fleet this year. It also launched its Global Fresh Fish programme to provide healthy eating choices. “We have vendors in 60 ports who deliver sustainably sourced fresh fish from dock to ship in 48 hours, so we know its high quality and local, for example barramundi in Australia,” says Antorcha.  

Holland America Line Volendam Canada

Volendam connected to shore power in Vancouver, Canada

Holland America has also been investing in becoming more environmentally friendly. For example, it now connects to shore power in more than 18 ports worldwide and is also exploring alternative fuels. It partnered with the Dutch government to test biodiesel on Volendam in summer. “There is lots of work going on [regarding fuels] but there is no clear answer, and if there was, there is no clear supply in the volumes we use or in the places we go to,” says Antorcha. “That is a challenge, but it doesn’t mean we aren’t working on it.” 

He adds: “We have really sharpened our focus on the guest and coalesced round what that means for our service level, our product and our marketing. The organisation feels optimistic and happy to be doing what we love doing and finding success in doing that. What more can you ask for?” 

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2024 issue of  Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. Subscribe  for FREE to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.  

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