Exclusive: A One-on-One With Virtuoso's Bill Smith



VICTORIA, BC, Canada -- Luxury Travel Advisor just docked in Victoria, British Columbia this morning as a part of Crystal Cruises' 21st Annual Sales Achievement Awards Gala. Before we head out this afternoon to explore the Butchart Gardens and the Empress Hotel, we were able to sit down with Bill Smith, Virtuoso's new vice president of cruise sales and former vice president of sales and marketing for Crystal Cruises.

Smith told Luxury Travel Advisor that his decision to move to Virtuoso was to explore a brand new career option and take his 30-plus years of experience in the cruise industry and apply it to the distribution side. "I feel as though I know the challenges of the cruise industry and can use that knowledge in my new role," Smith told Travel Agent.

Some of these challenges include filling ships and attracting new cruise members to test out the product. In Smith's opinion, cruise lines need to create a differentiating factor in order to become more attractive to a new cruiser. For example, Regent Seven Seas Cruises has began offering free shore excursions and Crystal has unveiled its new all-inclusive product. "Cruise lines need to ask themselves, 'What makes my service different?'" Smith said.

There is widespread belief that cruises cater to two specific demographics: the older, retired crowd and families. But what about the 30-somethings who work on Wall Street and live the sexy-chic life? Is there a product for them? According to Smith, absolutely.

"I think it is more of a psychographic issue, rather than a demographic issue," Smith said. "These 30-somethings need to overcome their mental objections. For example, a Wall Street crowd knows what Nobu is. They need to be aware that Crystal offers that." Silversea and Seabourn are two other lines that offer high level of service and luxury, but have smaller ships and cater to a crowd looking to entertain itself, which could be perfect for a young couple looking for a wild night out on the Mediterranean. If a client wants choice, Crystal Cruises has casinos, the Palm Court and other opportunities that would be appealing to a younger demographic.

The number-one goal of a travel agent is to bring in new customers, especially in the cruise industry. "There are not a lot of successful agents," said Smith. "Order takers will always lose out to Travelocity and Expedia. Agents need to listen, they need to be more engaged with their clients." This is how you will sell the right cruise product. "Do not be an order-taker," Smith told Luxury Travel Advisor.

The burning question on our mind had to do with Crystal's fleet. The Symphony and Serenity are the number 1 and number 2 ships in the industry, but does Crystal have plans for more? According to Smith, when the Crystal Harmony was let go in 2005, the plan was to get a bigger ship but, as we all know, the industry fell on tough times making it difficult to plan to build. "I was happy we didn't have a brand-new ship in 2009," said Smith. However, Smith told Luxury Travel Advisor that it really is just a matter of time. "Crystal knows the design it wants, the parent company NYK has the money. It's just a matter of time," he told us.

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