I interviewed Chris Austin, v.p. of global sales and marketing for Seabourn, so he could give us the fine details on what sets the cruise line apart as an ultra-luxury cruise offering.

Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): In Recommend’s May 2017 issue, you noted that guests on board a Seabourn ship are “members of a select society, sharing travel experiences in a relaxed, club-like atmosphere.” Can you explain that a bit more in-depth—what does Seabourn offer specifically that creates this ambiance?

Chris Austin: On a Seabourn ship, space is generous and crowds are few. Our guest names, cocktail choices and wine orders are remembered, preferences noted, and wishes granted before they are spoken by a crew that borders on clairvoyant and is intent on exceeding guest expectations. The fellow guests you meet on our ships are quite social with a wide range of life stories and experiences that create the truly coveted intangible memories today’s luxury traveler seeks.

PVR: There are many cruise lines that offer high-end retreats within the ship experience that include accommodations, access to a private pool only offered to those guests within that retreat, spa inclusions, etc. How should a travel advisor evaluate that type of offering as compared to what Seabourn can offer, especially if they are looking at the monetary value?

CA: The difference here is on Seabourn we offer the client a true luxury experience across the entire ship, not just in certain parts of it like some of the other products on the market. This is particularly true as compared to larger ships where you still could have thousands of people onboard. In the end, the travel professional who knows their client, will find that the smaller environment with fewer people and a high-touch experience in every venue is what their client seeks on a product like Seabourn.

PVR: The definition of luxury changes almost seasonally—what do you think is the clear definition of luxury for today’s high-end client?

CA: Today luxury is all about acquiring unique, bespoke, curated experiences that improve quality of life—the experience of beauty, knowledge, and humanity at their deepest and most inspiring across our extraordinary world. Today’s luxury client continues to expect the finest in service, quality of accommodation, and food & beverage.

Luxury travelers we are seeing today are also placing a greater emphasis on the level of authentic experience they can have at destinations around the world. The development of programs like Ventures by Seabourn, Seabourn Journeys and our UNESCO partnership are all designed to help fulfill some of these desires to be immersed in the world like never before.

PVR: How does the client looking for an ultra-luxury cruise experience differ from the cruise client looking for a traditional luxury experience?

CA: Well I would say the ultra-luxury client is looking for the best, plain and simple, but it must be fulfilling, and they want to spend their time with like-minded people. The good news for the travel professional is the client looking for a traditional luxury experience can often be moved up to an ultra-luxury experience if you look for the right opportunities. If they know their client well, milestones like birthdays, professional achievements, or anniversaries are all great moments to suggest going all-out on an ultra-luxury cruise such as Seabourn.

Seabourn Encore Restaurant wine tower 2016 (105)
Seabourn Encore Restaurant wine tower.

PVR: Are those travelers who opt for an ultra-luxury cruise experience, such as Seabourn, usually first-time cruisers, although extremely well-traveled? If so, why do you believe that is?

CA: We are seeing more and more first-time cruisers with motivation to see more of our world, unpacking once, and visiting numerous destinations, hidden harbors and marquee ports across the world. In some cases, they hear about the experience from a friend or family member and decide to try us for an upcoming vacation. Many are recommended to experience a cruise by their travel professional. These guests realize we do offer everything a world-class resort offers, including the finest health & wellness program in partnership with Dr. Andrew Weil, plus world-class dining including The Grill by Thomas Keller. Many realize we offer so much more, with itineraries ranging from seven to 150+ nights. We become their home away from home, where our teams on board become part of the family.

The majority of our guests have always come from two groups. The first is past guests, who represent the majority of the people who book with us. The second is the traveler who has tried other brands—and perhaps other categories—and decided to book with Seabourn.

PVR: As a follow up to the previous question, if this is so, does this then tie into the ultra-luxury hotel ambiance that Seabourn offers?

CA: For the first-timers we do see onboard, I would say these guests have a penchant to stay at luxury properties while they travel, making the transition to Seabourn an easy choice for a first cruise. We do say that we’re the world’s finest ultra-luxury hotel at sea! Our newest ships, Seabourn Encore and soon to launch Seabourn Ovation are designed by the pre-eminent interior designer of luxury hotels and resorts, Adam D. Tihany. Our spaces provide the perfect setting and ambience whether it’s day or night and our all suite accommodations provide walk-in closets, verandas, sofas, writing desks, dining tables, full bath and separate showers and dual vanity sinks. These are some of the same amenities you would find in the accommodation at luxury hotels and resorts around the world.

PVR: Among some high-end vacationers, there’s a certain perception of cruising—how are cruise lines such as Seabourn debunking those perceptions?

CA: We’re certainly trying to help travelers see beyond their perceptions—dare I say misconceptions—about a cruise. Overcoming the perceptions is something we work hard to do every day, working with our travel professional partners so they can tell our story and convey the experience to their clients.

If you lead with the word “cruise” some travelers are automatically switched off. So we’ve found it’s better to build a mental image about the experience to draw people in—all-suite accommodation that is all oceanfront, highly-trained staff, world-class cuisine, and coveted destinations large and small—and it does work. Knowing why a client booked a resort, for example their world-class spa and aligning that to the spa, health and wellness experience in partnership with Dr. Andrew Weil on Seabourn is a perfect transition to introduce the cruise experience. Some travel professionals say they can’t sell cruises because of the “myths” and perceptions and I use the same storytelling technique to show them how they can indeed make their first booking with Seabourn.

PVR: Why is a wellness program such as the Andrew Weil one such an integral part of today’s ultra-luxury cruise offerings, given the fact that most vacationers, especially luxury clients, are taking their health- and wellness-minded lifestyles with them when they travel?

CA: Wellness is one of the hottest interest areas for luxury travelers right now. I believe part of the reason is the overarching shift from luxury goods to authentic experiences that are truly enriching, helping us mentally and physically rejuvenate ourselves. Partnering with Dr. Weil became natural for us because he is such a renowned expert in the field of integrative medicine allowing us to create a first-of-its-kind wellness experience at sea that meets these preferences for today’s traveler. Our guests can meet with a Mindful Living coach during their time with us. They can wake up with yoga and meditation. To take our wellness offering to another level, we’ve created dedicated wellness cruises in Alaska and the Greek Isles, where Dr. Weil and a team of experts will sail with our guests. They’re going to be fantastic!

PVR: If you had to name three key elements on board the Ovation that are going to knock the socks off repeat Seabourn guests, what would those be?

CA: First, I would say design and decor. Adam D. Tihany has worked to create another stunning ship that will feel very welcoming the way a Seabourn guest would expect. The second would be the onboard art collection, which is comprised of more than 1,600 pieces throughout the ship. The third is our culinary offering onboard, which we’re currently working to enhance even further than ever before. All good things to come on Seabourn Ovation. She’ll position from the Mediterranean to North Europe for her first summer season and we are looking forward to welcoming many of our travel professional partner clients on board this year!