In recent years, Seabourn has undergone a massive expansion programme, adding three ships (675 cabins) to the existing three ships comprising its 312-cabin fleet, but it’s all change again at the Carnival Corporation & plc brand.
Earlier this year the company announced the sale of the smaller ships, Seabourn Pride, Spirit and Legend, to Xanterra Parks & Resorts, owner of Windstar Cruises, with the handovers scheduled for April 2014, April 2015 and May 2015 respectively.
Richard Meadows explains the move: “What it really comes down to is reflecting on the corporation and how we want to grow going forward. We have had such a tremendous success with the three newbuilds (Seabourn Odyssey, Seabourn Sojourn and Seabourn Quest) – which, for little Seabourn at the time, was quite a bold move. We made a decision to consider our growth more around the lines of those three ships. They are spectacular and deliver on our mission so very well.”
There has been much talk about a new ship, which Meadows confirms. “Our plan is still to have an order for a newbuild this year. The design of that ship will encompass features that have made the others so successful. It will also keep our capacity in a fairly similar range, being of a similar size and platform to the Odyssey ships. We will be leveraging what we have done so well.”
The new addition will have the same standards and amenities as the present ships and deliver to an ultra-luxury level. The plan is to start selling cabins on the newbuild in 2015 to coincide with the departure of the second and third smaller ships.
Discussing the Odyssey class, Meadows says: “We were hopeful that Seabourn guests would love and adore them and they do. They think they are exciting, they love the amenities. Loyalty level is about 50 per cent repeat. We know them, we have personal interaction with them. We stay really close to them and their feedback.” This will of course all be taken into consideration when it comes to the new vessel.
Itineraries, too, are being expanded. Having more ships has enabled the company to explore more of the world. Whereas in 2008 – prior to the fleet expansion – the ships visited 218 ports in 67 countries, this year they will visit 348 ports in 97 countries.
“In 2014/5 we hope to add over 25 more ports of call, including those in Greenland and Western Australia,” says Meadows. “On the deployment side of things it is important to be globally distributed. Our guests are from all over the world and they really want to see a broad array of global destinations.”
This year Antarctica is being offered for the first time, along with South America. Starting mid-November there will be three 21-day cruises and one of 24 days, including five days of landings in Antarctica. A significant number of modifications have taken place in order to have 10 Zodiacs onboard. An expedition team of 14 lead by Robin Nest will include scientists, analysts, experts on political affairs and award-winning photo coaches. Meadows confirms he is encouraged by bookings but unwilling to be drawn on details of whether the newbuild will be ice-class, confirming only that the company is looking at all options.
Turning to the outlook for high-end cruising, Meadows comments: “I think the luxury market is still very much today travelling with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm and conviction.” He observes that consumers have changed somewhat over the years. “They want much more personalised and authentic experiences. The emphasis has changed a little bit to being about experiencing things rather than having possessions. I think this bodes very well for the luxury market because we cater to the guest experience. We focus as a brand on creating special moments for our guests. We listen and do everything we can to craft to that.”
He believes that the generation that will succeed the baby boomers is very much into those same kinds of things. “It’s about ‘what I have done’ more than ‘what I have’. To them, travel is a right rather than a privilege. It defines part of their personality. If you collect authentic experiences you can talk about them. And the more people talk about it the more it creates interest in that type of travel.”
When Seabourn moved to Seattle some two years ago it joined the Holland America Line (HAL) offices and has benefited from using the same back-of-house facilities, such as finance and accounting, human relations support, ticket revenue, hotel management and marine operations. However, Meadows highlights the importance of maintaining the individuality of the Seabourn brand.
He gives a synergy example: “The technology of HAL for Seabourn is a tremendous benefit – not only operationally but also, for example, in customer relations management. The world-class system to monitor customer information and data has helped to personalise Seabourn much more. The digital system can manage it much better. For example, last year a new loyalty programme was launched, which is highly regarded. We can reward our members with specifically targeted awards. Passengers can choose ones that mean more to them. It takes technology to be able to facilitate that.”
When it comes to the existing ships, each is having four penthouse spa suites of 500 sqft-plus added on the open deck area above the spa. Seabourn Quest is already fitted and Meadows says: “We are getting tremendous positive feedback.” Located within the spa area, the suites come with extras ranging from a spa concierge to healthy minibar alternatives such as vitamin waters.
Looking to the future, he says: “We are very interested to make sure that our onboard experience is at its highest level. We just looked at the menus, adding over a hundred recipes this summer. We are looking at how we source culinary items, for example seafood.” The company has also recently moved to buying Jidori chicken, which is fresh, free-range and vegetarian fed.
When it comes to shore excursions these are not normally included but the signature beach parties and the Antarctica landings will all come as part of the cruises. Beyond that, “the focus is on how we create a customer programme for events as well as tours that are very thoughtful and deliver the destination in an authentic way”. This might include taking 20 people to a local restaurant along with a chef or a visit to a winery and a chat with the winemaker.
“We really think of ways of doing things on a smaller, personal scale with the best guides and equipment on the ground and in a Seabourn way.”
Meadows concludes: “Our focus is very much on the guests, being the best in the ultra-luxury category and being a successful contributor to the Carnival team.”
This article appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2013 edition of International Cruise & Ferry Review. To read other articles, you can subscribe to the magazine in printed or digital formats.