This article was first published in Spring/Summer 2018 issue of the International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
In the past, affluent individuals wanted high-end possessions, such as watches and cars, but they have now moved towards wanting high quality experiences.
“Around the world in every affluent marketplace you look at, there is a seismic shift to experiences rather than things,” says Rick Meadows who is busy making sure the Seabourn brand lives up to, and maintains its, reputation in this field. “When you pause and reflect on the top of the luxury, and in our case super-luxury, end of the market we are pretty bullish that Seabourn Encore and Seabourn Ovation give us that. Every bit of research supports the overwhelming want for authentic experiences, which we deliver as a category very well.
Because of that change, it puts us in a good spot for what the overall market wants.”
The basis of Seabourn’s confidence sits squarely with that change in consumer desires, which aligns perfectly with the brand proposition.
“How we deliver experiences that are truly unique is what we are thinking about,” says Meadows. “Several years ago when we started in Antarctica, we made an investment into the whole concept of hiring some of the world’s best expedition leaders and Zodiacs. That experience was in such incredible demand and so widely regarded by our guests that it helped us in expanding the concept further.”
The result was the development of Ventures by Seabourn programme, which is available on several sailings around the world, including Alaska and Northern Europe. This optional programme has two parts. The first is onboard complementary lectures given by highly regarded experts in their fields and the second is a trip off the ship led by the same expedition leaders. “We have turned over the expectation of what guests can do ashore,” says Meadows.
Seabourn’s partnership with UNESCO, begun in 2014, is also all about enhancing tours to places such as Canada’s Québec City, Castro on Chiloé Island in Chile and St Petersburg in Russia. The aim is to provide authentic experiences, but also support sustainable tourism. “These sites are critical in telling our history, for example working with a curator to offer behind the scenes tours,” Meadows explains. “While Seabourn is an ultra-luxury brand first, our itineraries are also interesting and relevant to guests that also like expedition-like experiences, but they don’t have to give up comforts.”
Seabourn’s fleet is a young one, the oldest ship being delivered in 2009. “We have incredible consistency in our fleet and all five ships have very, very similar construct,” comments Meadows. “Seabourn Ovation and Seabourn Encore are built on a similar platform and, because of this consistency, we can do the same things throughout. Seabourn Encore came out with an advantage programme in place and the same will happen with Seabourn Ovation. All the partnerships – including those with chef Thomas Keller and spa and wellness expert Dr Andrew Weil – can be found on all the ships.”
Seabourn passengers are a loyal group with a repeat factor of 50%. “Over the past couple of years, and particularly last year, we have paused a little bit and have seen our big opportunity is looking at luxury land-lovers,” says Meadows. “In other words, those who have not considered a cruise because of the [present] perception of cruising, but also because they are thinking it doesn’t offer the level of luxury they want.”
To this end, Meadows has implemented some changes. “We are making sure that when we talk about ourselves we do it in a way that potential prospects can understand the concept a bit more clearly, for example ocean-front suites,” he explains. “There are very many subtle things in the marketing message. If you have not cruised before, there is a lot of jargon in our industry. In some ways we are backing away from that.”
When it comes to marketing, Seabourn continues to talk to existing and past guests, but is also experimenting with different media outlets from time to time. These include different publications and e-mail campaigns. “We are also acknowledging the trade in a more powerful way,” Meadows says. “For example, in North America we have a dedicated key account sales team that only works with Seabourn, not the overall Holland America Group.”
Maintaining Seabourn’s position at the top is vital. “We continue to receive tremendous accolades from consumer service,” enthuses Meadows. “We are confident in our place. We are committed to delivering Seabourn moments for our guests and retaining our place at the ultra-luxury level.”
Remembering passenger preferences and names is one thing, but delivering beyond expectations is another. “To do that we have to connect with them somehow,” explains Meadows. “It can be anything from the way service is delivered, to something extraordinary that creates a special moment for the guest. We have worked to align ourselves with some very powerful partnerships (UNESCO, Keller and Weil) so we can deliver something far greater than we could as individual entities.”
This year marks Seabourn’s 30th anniversary and will see the arrival of Seabourn Ovation into the fleet. This will allow Seabourn to travel further and continue to provide Alaska cruises, which it restarted in 2017 after a 15-year hiatus. “We are visiting all seven continents and over 470 ports this year,” Meadows says. “We are continually looking for new places, whether regions or ports.”
Although there are no options or plans for more ships, Meadows says: “We are very optimistic and have proven our success. We have been able to grow and innovate in a way which is pretty powerful for a brand like ours. The question that fuels me is: what can we develop for the future that is going to continue to place us at the very, very top? Trying to meet that expectation, while continuing to operate on a daily basis, is energising and exciting.”
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