On Site at Crystal Sales Awards Gala: What's Next for the Luxury Line

Tom Wolber President and CEO Crystal Cruises Crystal Sales Gala 2019 Photo by Susan J. Young Editorial Use Only
Photo by Susan J. Young

Delivering $136 million in revenue to Crystal Cruises in 2018, 56 top-producing travel partners from 14 countries qualified for Crystal's 2019 Sales Gala, now in progress onboard Crystal Serenity, sailing from Barcelona to Dover, U.K. Many partners and media boarded the ship in Lisbon, Portugal. 

Thirty-two of those trade partners achieved $1 million in 2018 revenue for Crystal, while 24 partners reached more than $2 million in revenue.

Throughout this week, these high-achieving luxury travel advisors and executives from top agencies, consortia and host organizations are listening to Crystal executives' presentations on everything from sales to information technology, from marketing to customer service and travel advisor programs and services.

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Wolber Keynote Welcome

Kicking off this year’s gala, Tom Wolber, Crystal's president and CEO, told the trade audience that the line’s priority in 2018 was to stabilize Crystal after several years of rapid-fire growth that included the addition of river and yacht vessels and plans for an expedition ship (set to launch in 2020) and a new Diamond-class oceangoing ship.

The company’s top priorities this past year have focused on "continuing to be the luxury experience that guests have come to love” and assuring that Crystal "continues to be a pleasure to do business with.”

Wolber stressed: “We have focused on that with our Crystal teams rounda the world, and we are getting to where we need to be and back to where we used to be.” He said that’s come with improvements, investments in tools such as Cruise Builder and Seaware, and in releasing itineraries three years ahead of time.

The line has also added Book Now Savings/pricing integrity and launched a new award-winning website, said Wolber, adding that many site features resulted from insight and strategies suggested by the line’s trade partners. 

This year, he sees the company’s goal as improving and building on what’s been accomplished over the past year. Many other Crystal executives, including Carmen Roig, senior vice president, marketing and sales; Rolando Trejos, Jr., vice president of revenue management; and Bertha Espinosa, vice president of guest relations, were among those speaking to the advisors and trade executives.

Here’s a sampling of tidbits, statistics and gleanings for the trade from the sessions on Wednesday. 

Revenue is Up Substantially: Crystal has experienced strong Wave Season bookings this year and in prior years, and thus far, 2019 revenue is up sizably, compared with results posted during the same time last year. Ocean cruise revenue is up 10 percent, river cruise revenue is up 12.2 percent and yacht revenue has increased 31.4 percent.

Timing Is Far Out and Close In: More of Crystal's luxury guests are booking farther out and now the line is releasing itineraries three years in advance; it’s a competitive edge, according to Wolber. He said that’s worked very well, with more than 300 accommodations for the full 2022 World Cruise already booked.

Yet, at the same time, another luxury trend is people booking within the same year and “the trend of closer in than is standard for the luxury market,” he noted.

Mix of Guests: The overall percentage mix of guests sailing on Crystal who are new to the brand or, alternatively, are past guests (Crystal Society members), hasn't changed much over the past two years. That ranges from 45 to 46 percent for first-time guests, and 54 percent to 55 percent for past guests.

But it’s a different mix for Crystal's river and yacht experiences. In 2018, 58 percent of all river cruise guests were new to the river brand, while past Crystal Society guests constituted 42 percent of those onboard. It was an even more dramatic shift for the yacht brand – with 66 percent of all guests being new to the brand, versus 34 percent for past guests.

More Seven-Night Cruises: Look for a good mix of week-long cruises in future years, in addition to the longer voyages. In 2022, Crystal plans 21 seven-night cruises on Crystal Symphony and Crystal Serenity. For “the working wealthy," a seven-night vacation is all the time they can spare.

Wolber believes these new week-long voyages will appeal to multi-generational families, people with business schedules or those who want to try Crystal for the first time. The seven-night voyages in 2022 also can be combined back-to-back for 14-night cruises without repeating ports in many cases. Voyages will also have more overnights and extended stays in ports in 2022 schedules.

Guest Demographics: The average age of Crystal’s guests in 2018? Those who sailed on Crystal’s ocean ships who were new to the brand were, on average, 61 years of age. Crystal Society (repeat) guests on the line's ocean voyages averaged 68 years of age. The average age on Crystal’s river ships was 61 for new-to-brand guests and 66 for Crystal Society guests.

Crystal Esprit, the yacht product, draws guests a bit younger—57 years of age for new-to-Crystal guests and 67 years of age for past guests. Overall, across all experiences, the average age of new Crystal guests was 61 while Crystal Society guests were 67.  

Group Bookings Soar: Group bookings for all Crystal experiences? The line had 681 groups for 2017, 1,867 groups for 2018, and thus far this year, 1,708 groups. If looking solely at river cruising, group bookings were 166 in 2017, 410 last year and 525 this year.

More Bandwidth, Faster Wi-Fi: Crystal’s technology team plans to double fleetwide Internet bandwidth by 2020. In fact, the line’s bandwidth has increased eight-fold from 2017, advisors learned.

Luxury Travel Advisor found the Wi-Fi responsive and relatively fast on Crystal Serenity, something to be said given that Wi-Fi is complimentary—meaning literally everyone is on it and often on multiple devices while onboard.

Crystal’s Trade Commitment: Demonstrating the line’s trade commitment, Roig (shown in the photo below) told the top producers that bookings transferred by Crystal to travel advisors resulted in commission paid on $4.5 million in 2018 revenue.

Also, since Crystal launched its new online booking engine, from December 21, 2018, through June 3, 2019, commission was paid to travel advisors on more than $2.73 million in revenue from that online operation.

Carmen Roig Sr. VP Sales and Marketing Crystal Cruises Photo by Susan J. Young Editorial Use Only Crystal 2019 Sales Gala

Tribute to Helen Panagos: Roig also paid poignant tribute to the late Helen Panagos, vice president of Crystal Destinations and a member of the Crystal team, who passed away earlier this year. She was beloved by many travel advisors and cruise industry executives. “Seize every day,” said Roig, who emphasized that Panagos is “gone but always in our hearts.”

Technology Updates: Crystal Connect, the new guest portal on the landing page of onboard Internet access, is now “live” fleetwide for ocean and river products. Guests can access it from their smartphones, tablets or computers and instantly find shipboard and itinerary information, daily menus, shore excursions and port maps, daily issues of Reflections and complimentary global newspapers and an entertainment library.

Other Crystal Connect updates coming? A new mobile app will launch in third quarter 2019, and ocean voyage amenities, shore excursion information and room service ordering will launch in the fourth quarter 2019. For river and expedition ships, door access and room controls will launch in the second quarter 2020. Mobile check-in will roll out in the second quarter 2020.

In addition, Crystal will continue to “remove friction” and make things easier technology-wise on the PCPC (Priority Check-in and Planning Center). The line will also use technology to improve the embarkation process.

Future projects also will include controlling permissions to use certain promotions and book into a particular group by agents' profiles; the ability to download certain booking documents; adding notes to the reservations; editing personal information separately from immigration information; adding a “make another booking” button on the reservation summary for the same voyage; adding cruise credits on the confirmation; and sending out a confirmation when a guarantee is assigned a number.

New Appointments: Among many personnel shifts, here are a few key ones, announced by Espinosa. Cathy Vazquez is the new director of reservations, TSU, training and development; Duane Fisher is the new senior manager of group services and dispatch; and Sylvia Levi has been moved to a new position, resolution specialist. 

Perfecting the Diamond-Class Design: Wolber said the line—now celebrating its 30th year of operations—is in the process of perfecting design plans for the new oceangoing Diamond-class ship it’s building at three northern Germany shipyards, now owned by parent company Genting Hong Kong. He was actually heading to the shipyard after his time at the sales gala.

"The new class will take luxury to the next level,” Wolber said, adding that the line is “holding to the timeline” it gave agents previously about the ship's launch. That said, “I won’t share anything until I have them perfect…but believe me, they are going to be in the top of the end.”

Crystal hasn't discussed how many ships in that series are planned, but for the current new ship project, he stressed that the line is “doing it right” and “doing what Crystal’s guests expect...We are very excited about the future of the new class and we know that when we can share it with you, you will be as well...We have a lot of new elements.” No additional details were provided.

Pricing and Booking-Related Adjustments: The company is adjusting some pricing, administrative fees, deposit and other booking-related policies for 2020, and it presented detailed charts of the changes. Since there are many nuances and some adjustments vary by ocean and river/expedition products, Travel Agent recommends advisors with questions talk to their Crystal sales contacts.   

Crystal Endeavor: Launching in 2020, Crystal’s expedition ship, Crystal Endeavor, is doing well sales-wise. “Her itineraries are generating tremendous buzz and interest,” Wolber said, noting there is great demand for the rare and remote adventure, pole to pole and elsewhere across the globe.

Most category accommodations on the ship's 2021 Northeast Passage voyage are already wait-listed, he said, adding: “The expedition experience is an incredible opportunity for all of us to reach a new audience … and build the business we have together."

He also announced the appointment of David Sinclair as Crystal Endeavor’s expedition leader. Sinclair is highly experienced, has scaled the highest peaks, skied across Greenland and has a “keen focus on environmental sustainability,” Wolber added.

“It’s an enormous privilege to visit these places and with that comes enormous responsibility,” he said, noting the Sinclair will not just lead expeditions but educate visitors on protecting the pristine regions where the the vessel sails. “His passion for this is immense,” said Wolber.

Capacity Yet to Sell for 2019: Trejos, Jr. discussed accommodation availability for this year, noting that the line had a good Wave Season and only has 10 to 12 percent of its availability yet to fill this year. That will take it up to approximately 90 percent occupancy, which for Crystal basically equates to a full ship. He noted that the 90 percent threshold is about as high as the line can get due to the large number of solo travelers booking staterooms and suites.

The Essence of Crystal: “The essence of Crystal has been and always will be about our people,” said Wolber, putting up a slide that showed that no hardware can outshine the intangible spirit and culture of the company. “It’s always been about personalized service and people who deliver that service – service that caters to the individuality of every one of our guests."

Wolber believes Crystal excels in the luxury segment, "but the moment you start really believing that – that you’re the best – is the moment you start losing it.” Thus, he said the 2019 focus is to refine the Crystal experience from ship to shore.

Luxury is Personal: “The culture that puts our guests first is that we understand that the world revolves around them,” said Roig, who discussed the new brand campaign, “Luxury is Personal,” which launched in January. While the luxury line reviewed various proposals for a new campaign, in the end, it chose this simple message, Roig said, because it truly embodies the Crystal experience.

“We asked the agency to pull at our heart strings,” she emphasized. They did, and Roig stressed that the new campaign shows that when it comes to luxury, “it’s not one size fits all, it’s luxury that fits one.”

This article originally appeared on www.travelagentcentral.com.

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