The importance of the port in an ideal cruise

Mike Pawlus from Azamara discusses the secret of the company’s itinerary success and the value of shore excursions with Elly Yates-Roberts

The importance of the port in an ideal cruise
Azamara’s itineraries to the Greek islands are always popular with guests

Azamara has discovered the perfect formula for delivering ideal luxury cruise itineraries to its customers. The secret? A combination of large and small ports.

“It is a blend of marquee ports and hidden gems that helps us to deliver great results,” says Mike Pawlus, director of strategic itinerary and destination planning at Azamara. “We need the marquee ports to sell the cruise, but it is the hidden gems that people don’t know much about that really enable us to exceed expectations.”

The cruise line – which prides itself on its Destination Immersion experiences – has seen great success as a result of this combination, with many of its itineraries delivering consistently high customer satisfaction rates.

“There are so many itineraries that deliver well,” says Pawlus. “The Baltic always does well as every port is different and superb in a variety of ways. We normally spend three days in St. Petersburg, Russia, as it works really well alongside the other ports on our Baltic cruises, such as Tallinn, Estonia; Helsinki, Finland; Stockholm, Sweden; and Copenhagen, Denmark. Good ticket revenue, great shore excursion opportunities and high port ratings have made for a fantastic formula in this region.

“Another route that consistently does well for us is the Greek Isles. So many people thoroughly enjoy the ports we visit as they are incredibly beautiful. It is a very relaxing destination that our guests love.”

Azamara’s focus on destination immersion is something that sets it apart from the competition, and it has been built into the company’s business model to ensure customers get the best possible experiences.

“The destination is the key component of our cruises, so we stay longer in port and focus on shore-based excursions and experiences,” explains Pawlus. “That is why more than 50 per cent of our cruises feature overnight stays or longer days in ports. Some cruise lines prioritise onboard sales to increase their revenues, and so set sail before evening to open the casinos and bars onboard. While this works for them, this is simply not our style.”

Despite the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, Pawlus does not expect Azamara to shift its focus in this area.

“Every cruise line has its proposition,” he says. “We have determined a good formula and our guests have responded favourably; why ruin something great?”

Shore excursions and ports of call play a pivotal role in the success of every Azamara itinerary – both financially and from a customer satisfaction perspective. The opportunities to visit new and exotic areas of the world enhance the experience with local cuisine, new cultures and ancient history. And while some guests may choose to enjoy the opulence and relaxation made available by the onboard offerings for the entirety of their trip, Azamara tries to encourage its passengers to opt for a more ‘pied à terre’ experience.

“We invite all of our guests to purchase a shore excursion while onboard our ships,” says Pawlus. “Our ratings clearly show that those who visit the extraordinary destinations on offer are much more satisfied with their overall cruise experience.”

Pawlus thinks cruise industry partners and ports across the world have played a key role in helping Azamara to achieve this high shore-based satisfaction rate. However, he believes there is still room for growth. “We constantly challenge our port agents to give us unique shore excursion options. Our customers are no longer excited by the typical three-hour city bus tours of old.”

With all this considered, it’s no wonder that Pawlus, like many of his peers, cannot wait for the industry to restart around the world. “I am most looking forward to waking up each morning to see where our ships are in the world, and what our guests are experiencing.”

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

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Elly Yates-Roberts
By Elly Yates-Roberts
27 January 2021

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