Daring to dream big in the Asian cruise market

In one of his last interviews before stepping down as CEO of Dream Cruises, Thatcher Brown tells Lindsay James about his favourite destinations and the secret to creating the perfect itinerary

Daring to dream big in the Asian cruise market
Genting Dream will call at Koh Samui in Thailand, which is famed for its white beaches, clear seas and more

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.

Thatcher Brown cannot hide his excitement about the future of cruising. “The way we interact with the world around us evolves so quickly with innovation and new technologies,” he says. “The rapid advances in artificial intelligence and data science is mind-boggling.”

This evolution is requiring firms like Dream Cruises to constantly redesign their offerings to be more relevant and thoughtful. “We’re delivering a better experience through new technologies and connecting people in memorable, meaningful ways,” he explains. “However, my excitement turns to apprehension when it comes to the importance of human interpersonal relations in service delivery. The noble art of hospitality cannot be overlooked along the way.”

Thankfully, Dream Cruises has not lost sight of its commitment to the customer experience – and this is evident in its comprehensive itinerary plans which aim to please every type of guest. “Intergenerational and mid-to-short haul travel has become popular in the Asian cruise market, with grandparents and extended family taking cruises together or having reunions,” Brown explains. “This trend requires a balance of sea and port days where our ports of call have good infrastructure and activities for all ages.

“Asian travellers also enjoy visiting important landmarks and deeper cultural experiences. In order to meet different demand, Dream Cruises offers a great variety of itineraries and flexibility.”

The newly debuted Explorer Dream is a great example. The ship will take guests on cruises to popular destinations in Japan until the end September when she will homeport in Shanghai and Tianjin, China. “When cherry blossoms in Japan are in bloom, guests can enjoy the dazzling floral display onshore, complemented by authentic Japanese experiences on the cruise, such as specialty dishes featuring Japanese Wagyu beef and pork, tuna cutting performances, Yukata trials, poolside festivals and more,” Brown says.

Meanwhile, the fly-cruise regional vacation concept continues to gain momentum with the proliferation of regional low-cost carriers throughout Pan-Asia fly-cruise hubs. “In response to this, our newest ship, Explorer Dream, will homeport in Sydney and Auckland this October where she will embark on a variety of seven-night weekly itineraries,” Brown explains. “A significant percentage of our guests are expected to be fly-cruise vacationers from regional Asia markets.”

For international guests who choose the luxury of Dream Cruises, Brown envisages more demand for more time in key ports. “This means more overnight stays and pre- and post-cruise options allowing for more immersive destination experiences,” he explains.

Meanwhile, Dream Cruises’ parent company Genting Cruise Lines is also focusing on guest appeal. “It has launched its first regional Cruise Voluntourism campaign in Asia through Dream Cruises as part of the group’s year-long 25th Anniversary celebration,” Brown says. “Initially debuting on Genting Dream, the campaign will further roll out across the Dream Cruises fleet and our sister brand Star Cruises’ ships region-wide to provide guests the opportunity to further enrich their vacation with meaningful and memorable complimentary shore experiences during their cruise.”

Brown believes that all of these offerings comprise a number of key components which lead to the perfect itinerary. “First of all, we identify the addressable markets of likely cruise vacationers and what destinations appeal to them and why. We then start to plan for the vacation length and destinations that cater to their interests while aligning with seasonality, weather conditions and local attractions.

“The accessibility, infrastructure and popularity of our homeports are crucial,” he continues. “Our homeports support pre-cruise and post-cruise experiences that appeal to lifestyle interests like food, adventure, relaxation, culture, nature and history.”

Often the itineraries are supported by bringing the destinations onboard with theme cruises and festivals at sea. “By doing so, our sea days complement our port days – featuring local products, foods and enrichment experiences that enhance our guests’ destination experience and create shore excursion engagement,” Brown explains. “Of course, our itinerary planning factors in fuel consumption, tendering versus alongside, visa requirements, guest satisfaction, procurement, tourism board support and overall vacation rhythm and comfort. We are constantly evaluating existing and new ports for infrastructure, safety, attractions and convenience.”

For Brown himself, nothing can beat the gastronomic side of the cruise experience. “The best shore excursion that I’ve been on was a ‘market to table’ culinary shore excursion with our celebrity chef Mark Best onboard Genting Dream. Chef Best took 10 of us to Phuket’s Kaset Market in Thailand, where we learned all about the local produce, selected fresh ingredients and then had a cooking lesson/demonstration onboard where we prepared the local dishes like larb gai and crunchy prawn cake. Amazing and delicious!”

But it’s not just the itineraries that need to uphold Dream Cruises’ brand values – the destinations themselves need to also. “At the very core, what differentiates Dream Cruises from the other cruise lines is its commitment and ability to offer an inspirational cruise vacation experience that is Asian at heart and international in spirit for all guests,” Brown says. “We look for destinations to adapt and maintain international tourism product and service standards while being true to their local character with relevant offerings.

“We strive to exceed our guests’ expectations and require our destination partners to do the same. This requires collaboration and teamwork where shared investment, advance planning, follow-up and constant communication is critical.”

Brown points towards a number of cruise regions that consistently over-deliver. “Asia has long been the biggest growth market for the cruise industry. When Asian travellers first experience cruise as a holiday choice, they predominantly take their cruise within the Asia region. As such, Southeast Asia, Southern China’s Greater Bay Area and Japan continue to progress in delivering world-class homeports and cruise experiences,” he explains.

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Lindsay James
By Lindsay James
Thursday, September 26, 2019