What are cruise line leaders prioritising for 2019?

Executives from AmaWaterways, Tauck and Celebrity talk sustainability, guest experience and more

What are cruise line leaders prioritising for 2019?
Celebrity Cruises prides itself on delivering high service standards across its ships

By Guest |

This article was first published in the Spring/Summer 2019 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

What is your brand currently doing, or planning to do, to protect the environment and improve sustainability?
Lisa Lutoff-Perlo, president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises: Sustainability is embedded throughout everything we do, from our Save the Waves programme (now over 25 years strong), to our 2020 targets, which will reduce our environmental footprint in three key areas: emissions reduction, sustainable sourcing and destination stewardship. Designing for the future is also part of the fabric of our company. This includes new hull designs, LNG-fuelled ships and innovative technologies such as air lubrication systems all aimed at energy reductions. We also expanded our waste reduction programme to proactively reduce single-use plastic.

Rudi Schreiner, president and co-owner of AmaWaterways: Protecting the rivers we sail on is a top priority and we have demonstrated this commitment to preservation through thoughtful design of our ships. A specific example is with AmaMagna, which operates on a 10-engine system that allows for less fuel usage and reduced noise levels. We are hopeful it can reduce fuel consumption by 20-25%. AmaMagna also will have a new freshwater storage system to reduce chemical usage and additional environmentally conscious elements onboard including LED lights, special insulated windows that reduce energy needs for heating and cooling, power locks to plug into a port’s power supply instead of running generators and a solar heating system. We’ve also replaced plastic straws with paper ones fleetwide.

Jennifer Tombaugh, president of Tauck: This is a key issue for our industry, and we have put even sharper focus on this at Tauck. We’re committed to minimising our impact, and we’ve recently installed environmentally friendly, shower-mounted dispensers for shampoo, conditioner and bath gel on our riverboats that will eliminate the use of hundreds of thousands of small plastic bottles in the coming years. We’re also saving over 172,000 disposable plastic bottles annually by providing each guest with an insulated, reusable water bottle to bring on excursions. Our riverboat partner, Scylla, is also experimenting with cleaner-burning gas-to-liquid fuel options. We’ve historically considered sustainability to extend beyond environmental concerns to also include ensuring the sustainability of the places we visit. The focus of our corporate giving and volunteer work through Tauck Impact is destination preservation on both our land and cruise itineraries.

What are your priorities when it comes to keeping the fleet fresh?
Lutoff-Perlo: We’ve just launched Celebrity Edge, our first new ship class in 10 years, and we’re building the second in the Edge class, Celebrity Apex. We have also committed US$530 million to our ‘Celebrity Revolution’ where we are reimagining and revitalising the entire fleet – from the accommodations to the culinary experiences and every little detail in between. This is an incredible undertaking that will take place until 2023. We’ll be launching the first ship designed with the destination in mind, Celebrity Flora, this May. Sailing in the unique ecosystem of the Galapagos, Celebrity Flora is another example of revolutionary ship design, by allowing the destination and its environment to influence every decision we’ve made.

Schreiner: We have a modern, young fleet of newbuild vessels – 15 of which have been launched since 2012. This year, we will debut three new ships, the most since our company’s founding in 2002 – AmaMora, sailing the Rhine; AmaDouro, taking guests through Portugal; and AmaMagna, which will be twice the width of traditional river cruise ships and operate on the Danube. We’re fortunate in the European river cruise industry to have a two-and-a-half month sailing break, starting in January, which allows our technical and maintenance teams an opportunity to freshen our ships completely before the start of each new sailing season.

Tombaugh: Last spring we completed a massive refurbishment project that saw the complete re-imagination of our four 110-metre riverboats, which currently comprise half of our European riverboat fleet. Tauck will debut our first-ever ship and cruise itineraries on the Douro River in Portugal. Our new ship, Andorinha, being purpose-built for the Douro, will sail on three new itineraries and accommodate just 84 guests.

Can you tell us about your key strategies for exceeding your guest expectations and differentiating from the competition in 2019?
Lutoff-Perlo: Exceeding our guest expectations is part of our DNA and something we strive for every day. Our outstanding service elevates luxury to an art form. We’ve also been chosen by Forbes Travel Guide for first-of-its-kind partnership to hold ourselves to the highest luxury service standards in the world. We have been recognised for our industry-leading hospitality that offers our guests personalised, genuine and knowledgeable service unlike any other. We’re always looking for ways to improve upon our service as it’s our commitment to our guests across the fleet.

Schreiner: Our focus on freedom of choice, innovation and human interaction has helped us exceed our guests’ expectations and differentiate us from the competition. Whether it is the service onboard, the dining options or the variety of excursions, our guests have so many ways to personalise their river cruise experience. When it comes to innovation, we are always looking for new ways for guests to enjoy river cruising – we were the first to have bicycles onboard, pioneered ‘Hosted Wine’ cruises, designed connecting staterooms for families, introduced wellness hosts and we’ll offer a Concierge Golf Program exclusively on AmaMagna sailings. The recruitment and training of our cruise managers and teams onboard remains a top priority, as it is their genuine warm welcome and thoughtfulness that creates the unforgettable memories that keep our guests returning.

Tombaugh: Our key strategy involves a four-fold approach. It’s all based on our 94-year-old philosophy of doing what’s right by our guests and delivering the very best experience we can. First, we’ll continue to deliver the special ‘insider access’ to unique, authentic and enriching people, places and experiences that have been the hallmark of Tauck’s journeys. Second, we’ll continue to staff our riverboats with a higher number of service personnel who are some of the most interesting people with whom you’d want to go exploring. Third, we’ll provide a more intimate and relaxed onboard ambience by consciously limiting our passenger capacity. Last, we’ll continue to deliver outstanding value while providing the ease and convenience of true, all-inclusive pricing.

What are the most significant factors in deciding on deployment and itinerary planning?
Lutoff-Perlo: We dig just as deep into guest preferences – cruise length, homeports, ports of call and call times – as we do into economic and environmental factors, including our commitment to the World Wildlife Fund, as well as guest safety. New and emerging destinations that are committed to the cruise industry and our travellers’ experiences are also key to keeping our itineraries exciting for returning guests.

Schreiner: Many factors are taken into account when determining our ships’ routes and itineraries, but central to our discussions are the security, safety and enjoyment of our guests, as well as the reliability of the river conditions and the quality of local services. Having an additional ship on the Douro and increasing the number of departures on the lower Danube are two examples of responding to customer demand, but we also never shy away from trying new itineraries, like the Moselle, that offer an exceptional guest experience. In terms of diversity of ports of call, we look for a balance between iconic sites and little-known gems along each river. We build our excursions to have a mixture of experiences geared to first-time visitors as well as repeat guests. Plus, we like to have hiking and biking opportunities for more active travellers.

Tombaugh: It’s all about destination experience and access, driven by our extensive experience on our land programmes. We leverage decades-old partnerships to provide enhanced access to undiscovered people, places and experiences, something [guests] couldn’t do on their own. In terms of ship deployment, we always seek to align deployment schedules with demand, in order to service our guests and travel advisors as effectively as possible.

What other cruise travel trend predictions do you have?
Lutoff-Perlo: There are a handful that we’ve identified as there are more people cruising than ever to support the growth of the industry. People are looking for greater points of differentiation across all of the cruise brands, this goes for veteran cruise vacationers and those who are new to cruise vacations. Cruising is popular among millennials as well as multi-generational groups, and a greater number of solo travellers who are looking to experience the world by ship.

Schreiner: There are six major trends we see having an impact on the river cruise industry: personalisation, multi-generational travel, wellness, food and wine, respect for the environment and the role of travel advisors. There are two related trends – multi-generational travel and personalisation of the travel experience – that I feel will have the biggest impact on the future of river cruising. The demand for family-friendly travel options continues to grow. As the stress-free nature of river cruising has become better understood, we’ve noticed our cruises over the Thanksgiving and Christmas periods are becoming very popular with multi-generational families.

Tombaugh: We have a mantra that small is big, so that each guest enjoys the intimacy and personalised discovery in a destination. We’re convinced that the Douro will continue to surge in popularity; we’re also extremely upbeat on the prospects for small-ship ocean cruising – there’s that small is big again!

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