How Seabourn is discovering new possibilities

Susan Parker asks Timothy Littley how Seabourn’s move into expedition ships has provided a whole new canvas on which to further explore his passion for seeking out the new in destinations

How Seabourn is discovering new possibilities
RAK Ports
Ras al Kaminah is known for its Arabian Gulf beaches and terracotta desert plane

To say that Seabourn’s senior director of deployment and itinerary planning has been around the block understates what Timothy Littley has contributed to the world of destinations. World being the operative word – and now even more so as the brand prepares for the arrival of its expedition newbuilds.

“I would say what is dear to my heart is destinations,” he explains. “Everybody within the industry has a unique perspective on shore excursions. For me it is about new destinations and discovering new possibilities.”

Fortunately for Littley, he does have quite a bit of freedom to innovate. “With that comes the ability to discover new ports of call, or to rediscover,” he says. “Visiting destinations and interacting with the people allows me to pull back the layers of the onion a bit and get to know a destination.”

Littley also finds trade shows and port association gatherings rich ground for chatting to people “who might open the door to new possibilities”. Sometimes, he explains, destination ideas arise through a random conversation, although they don’t all come to fruition.

One example of success (for Seabourn’s existing fleet) is that of Ras al Khaimah, which received its first-ever call in December 2019. Littley explains that he was looking for something else in the region: “The United Arab Emirates is more than just Dubai [which Seabourn also visits]. A smaller destination like Ras al Khaimah allowed us to interact with culture and give a different experience. They welcomed us with open arms. When it goes well, that kind of innovation pays off in a big way.”

Another possibility being considered is Deal in Kent, UK. “To access that part of England would be nice as it’s a smaller destination which isn’t as busy as Dover. Deal is a historical and natural shelter back from the days of early trade and the Battle of Waterloo.”

Littley’s passion for discovery is evident when he starts talking about a walk he took near Walmer Castle in the neighbouring town to Deal, where he stumbled upon a concrete plaque on the ground commemorating Roman general Julius Caesar landing his army there 2,000 years ago. “I thought to myself, we can send a cruise ship here,” he says. “These moments are eye-opening. Innovation is just around every corner.”

However, he notes that it takes “blood, sweat and tears” to put a new place on the map and not every destination works out. “On one side of the coin, there are the operational, technical and financial aspects, and on the other is guest experience. It doesn’t take much for a destination or port to welcome cruise guests. I’m not saying everything has to be perfect because perfection is the enemy of execution, but certain things have to be in place. There has to be a willingness to make it happen.”

As in all businesses, revenues are key and Seabourn has two considerations. Those revenues that can be generated towards an activity in the destination, but also the impact of the destination on Seabourn’s ability to sell the cruise.

The environmental conversation is also now front of stage. “It is a very important fact, not just because it is very newsworthy in this time and age, but also because you have to believe that all of us want to leave behind something better than we started with,” comments Littley. “It might not be foremost on our guests minds but, they really realise it when something is amiss. They want to rely on the fact that, when they cruise with us, everything is taken into account. It is key in how they experience the cruise and we need to do it right.”

When it comes to choosing homeports, Littley says: “With the growth of the expedition fleet there are a lot of places with the ability to turnaround, for example Longyearbyen in Svalbard and St John’s in Newfoundland, which are seeing an increase in cruise traffic. The challenge is that not every place has the necessary facilities.”

There are also new opportunities for the existing fleet, with Haifa in Israel on the map for a turnaround call in 2021. “If all goes well, we will probably do a couple more in 2022,” says Littley. “It only needs a small step to open the door for a new-to-cruise port.”

Even for someone so well travelled, Littley is excited about the new destination possibilities a new ship brings. “Having the expedition ship joining the fleet is like having a whole new canvas to paint and a set of colours,” he says. “What I have learnt most of all with the expedition planning portfolio, now that I am delving deeper into it, is that people offhandedly say the world is becoming smaller, but now I am realising the world is far bigger than I thought. There are so many places yet to discover, but it takes a lot of dedication and motivation to get to some of these new destinations.

“Seabourn is more than what we do onboard. The destination is as important – or more important – than anything else. One reason guests choose Seabourn is because we go to destinations both near and far. Some places are totally off the grid, for example Kimberley in Australia. In a way, we are offering something guests cannot do independently.”

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

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Susan Parker
By Susan Parker
21 May 2020

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