Last year marked a significant turning point in the growth of the 33-year old Scenic Group. Known for its land tours and river cruises, the Australian-born company launched its entrance into expedition cruising. Getting to that point was fraught with challenges, but the result was a unique ship, the Scenic Eclipse.
“It is often said by those who have succeeded at the highest level that what helped them most was both prudent planning and not being afraid to try and retry until you get it right,” said Glen Moroney, founder and chairman of the Scenic Group. Tracing its roots to coach tours in Australia, Moroney built an organisation that pioneered innovations and redefined service standards.
Creating marketing materials and promoting bus tours in the 1980s to a hotel his father owned on Australia’s southeast coast, Moroney says he became fascinated by the tour business and its growth potential. Scenic got its start coordinating tours in Australia growing to escort tours on more than 800 itineraries in 66 countries, taking visitors to every continent.
Scenic made its first entry into river cruising in 2005, marketing charter programmes before investing $100 million to launch its first river cruise line in 2008. Its first two ships, the Scenic Sapphire and the Scenic Emerald, sailing on the Rhine and the Danube, defined the company, offering full balconies for their suites and all-inclusive pricing.
The guiding principles for Scenic Group, says Moroney, are: “Listen to your guests, provide the best in service and experiences, and then make it better.” Following that philosophy, the group continues to build on its heritage of developing industry firsts that later became mainstream options. Moroney points to elements including walk-out balconies, a GPS-based independent touring system, five dining options on its river ships, butlers, and truly all-inclusive fares.
Another unique strategy for river cruising was Scenic’s 2014 launch of a sister brand called Emerald Waterways. Featuring customised ships with signature features, including a two-level indoor pool area with a retractable roof that transforms into a movie theatre in the evenings, Emerald targets a different consumer demographic. “Emerald Waterways offers guests who may prefer not to have all the bells and whistles, a lower price point and fewer inclusions,” explains Moroney. Depending on the individual’s preferences, they have seen guests move between the two brands, upgrade to the extra luxuries offered by Scenic, or deciding they don’t need as many dining options, a butler, or the all-inclusive pricing and choosing to sail with Emerald.
The group continues to refine its river cruise offerings. In 2019 it redesigned eight Scenic river ships, reducing capacity, adding four more crew members, enlarging suites, a new wellness centre with a gym and area for yoga and stretching classes, and the river industry’s first salt therapy lounges. Scenic currently operates 15 river ships in Europe, Southeast Asia, Russia, and Egypt. In addition, Emerald Waterways has eight ships in Europe, Southeast Asia, Russia, and Egypt, and plans to launch a new river cruise ship in the spring of 2021.
Well-established in river and small-ship cruising, the group is setting its sights on expanding into ocean cruising. “We believe there is a tremendous amount of opportunity in the luxury ocean cruise business,” says Moroney. “Especially for those of us who focus on smaller, ultra-luxury yachts.”
Scenic’s entry into ocean cruising is an amenity-rich 17,545gt luxury vessel able to accommodate a maximum of 228 passengers. Employing the luxury, all-inclusive philosophy, the Scenic Eclipse features ten dining options, a large theatre, pools and a spa, as well as two Airbus H130 helicopters and a submarine that passengers can book for explorations.
While she has the appearance of a billionaire’s yacht, the Scenic Eclipse also has an Ice Class 1A Super classification. Designed to navigate in Antarctica and the Arctic, she received the Polar Class 6 designation, the highest passenger ship ice-class rating, and boasts a long list of technological advancements. Her Azipods were modified for ice operations, with zero-speed stabiliser fins that are 50 per cent larger to provide increased stability, oversized bow thrusters that aid with manoeuvrability, and a dynamic positioning system that maintains position without the use of anchors.
“We knew exactly what we wanted with Scenic Eclipse from day one,” says Moroney. Every detail was carefully planned, but with construction well underway, through no fault of the Scenic Group, the shipyard went bankrupt. “We knew what we were building was too important to give up,” says Moroney, so Scenic took the unheard-of step of becoming the general contractor and managing construction of its ship, which was completed a year behind schedule, in August 2019.
“Starting off as a tour operator so many years ago laid a strong foundation for our cruise business, as we already had some of the major needs in place. And the experience to make it work, day one,” says Moroney.
2021 will see the launch of Emerald Yacht Cruises with a new 100-guest super yacht, the Emerald Azzurra. Designed to cruise the Adriatic Coast, the Red Sea and the Mediterranean, the new ship is true to the company’s principals, with a modern upscale design and amenities including balcony cabins, a wellness centre with a gym and spa, and Zodiacs for unique shore experiences.
Scenic is also launching MKM Yachts, a new shipbuilding company to work with the shipyard in Croatia as the prime contractor for Scenic Eclipse II, which began construction in July 2020, plus four more custom-built vessels over the next six years.
Despite the tragedy of the coronavirus pandemic, Moroney says he is proud of the strength and fortitude of Scenic’s employees and is confident that everyone will again be enjoying the camaraderie shared while sailing.
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2020 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.
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