Q&A with Edie Bornstein, Crystal Cruises’ COO & President

CY in Milford Sound, NZ--part of ship

In late-December, Recommend’s editor-in-chief, Paloma Villaverde de Rico, sat down with Crystal Cruises’ COO & President, Edie Bornstein, on board the refreshed Crystal Serenity while it was docked at PortMiami.

Paloma Villaverde de Rico (PVR): What is your new leadership going to bring to Crystal Cruises?

Edie Bornstein (EB): I’m the perfect demographic for our guests. As a female in her 50s and a luxury consumer—typically, females make the buying decision in the family for a vacation—I think I understand our clients and our potential guest base. The other thing I really get and understand, since the genesis of my career as a travel consultant, is our trade partners very well; what they go through and how they have to articulate our brand experience in order to sell it to their client who is going to become our guest. So from the two very important audiences, the guest and our trade partners, I really understand both of those extremely well. I think that’s a good start and foundation for my leadership style because I am very pro-guests’ wants and needs and pro-travel consultants.

Additionally, I lead by example and offer a participative style of management. One of my mantras is “the company is great because of its people,” so whether it’s our incredible crew at sea or our incredible land-based team, these teams, our Crystal family members, are what make this brand, the brand that has won Conde Nast 20 times, Travel + Leisure 18 times. So I will continue to lead by example and continue to have a participative style of management, because I’m a leader who has really worked myself up the ranks these three-plus decades.

PVR: Going back to travel agents—how important is their role in today’s marketplace?

EB: I think the travel agent role is still paramount in this day and age, particularly for a luxury global cruise experience. I know technology is a great thing. In fact, the first time I ever went on a Crystal cruise, I booked it myself online through our website. I get and understand that for some people that might be the convenience, but I think, particularly for a first-time cruiser, they really need a travel agent to ask them the right set of questions, to then articulate the right recommendations for that individual travelers’ needs for that particular vacation.

I think for a really once-in-a-lifetime cruise experience to be right, you as the consumer/guest have to be matched with the right brand experience. You have one time to make a great first impression and if you are a Ritz-Carlton-type client and you’ve been put on a mass market 3,000-guest experience, potentially you might not like cruising and never want to come back. However, if you are that same Ritz-Carlton-type of client and you are asked the right set of questions by a reputable travel consultant, then they are going to guide you in the right direction to be making the right choice. Going back to your original question, a travel agent is still paramount to selling Crystal, and I personally and professionally am very pro-travel agent and will continue to support that distribution mechanism for our great brand.

PVR: What are some of the new things for 2014 that you are most excited about for Crystal Cruises?

EB: One of the things I am excited about as I sit here and speak to you on the Serenity, is that this beautiful ship came out of a multimillion-dollar refresh. One of the new things is the restaurant Tastes, a new dining concept that offers global cuisine. I had the privilege to dine there last evening and this is going to be a homerun. It is something very unique being done at sea and I really enjoyed the experience. There are also four living walls, and an herb garden where our chefs can actually go and pick the herbs and cook with them that day. That’s just a few details of this particular refresh. In addition to that, Symphony, which already had a refresh last year, will have even more enhancements.

PVR: There’s also the gorilla-tracking excursion—that’s pretty innovative.

EB: We are expanding our shore excursions. We have voluntourism, for example. If people want to be engaged in volunteering ashore, we have an incredible plethora of options for them. We have boutique adventures, so if your clients are two or six people who really want a customized land experience, we can provide that completely customized to their requirements and needs. In addition to that, we have something very unique at sea called Crystal Celebrations—we actually went out and outsourced an event planning company. If family members want to have an event both on the ship or ashore, this event planning company will do all the work for them. So let’s say your clients are planning a family reunion in their grandparents’ birthplace, there can be a family reunion party on board, plus the company will find that historic place in your client’s homeland; or if they want to have a wedding in Tuscany, the company will do all the work, all your clients have to do is show up and initially give them the details of how they want their event planned. It’s commissionable to travel agents. It’s a great combination, because travel consultants are not necessarily event planners; they’ll go through that effort for their clients, but this empowers them to do that and earn a commission and still meet the needs of their clients, be it on the ship or off the ship.

PVR: Why are the World Cruises such an integral part of the Crystal experience?

EB: I think the World Cruises are a hallmark of the Crystal experience. The January 2014 departure from Los Angeles is 89 nights and it’s just a great historical facet of Crystal, not to mention the fact that we do a gala the night before for all of our full World Cruisers. What’s really incredible and a testament to how much our clients love it is that our January 2015 departure that runs 108 nights is already sold out. We have a tremendous loyal following and we are delighted to deliver something they find so special that they keep coming back again and again.

PVR: How is the luxury traveler changing?

EB: We live in an evolving world and today’s luxury traveler wants a more casual vacation. By that, I mean historically—traditionally—Crystal has had formal nights, so now we’ve made it semi-formal. It gives guests options, so if they don’t want to come in a black tie and an evening gown, they can come in a black suit and cocktail dress, or if they want a casual dining environment, they can go to one of the casual dining venues. It’s not as strict, because that’s what our clients have told us they want as luxury travelers. They want time and interesting ports, and we will continue to ask them the right questions in order to provide the right luxury cruise experience.

For more details on Crystal Serenity’s refresh, read the Crystal Cruises story that appeared in the February 2014 issue. For more information on Crystal Cruises, visit crystalcruises.com or crystalcruises.com/agent.