Crystal Cruises recently announced a bevy of new vacation experiences—everything from river cruising to a new luxury air experience. With all of these new products, Recommend took the opportunity to chat with Edie Rodriguez, Crystal Cruises’ president and CEO, to discuss what this means for the brand.
Michelle Marie Arean (MMA): Edie, we know you’ve been thinking of major expansions for a while, you’ve been hinting at it, but why did you think it best to announce everything at once, rather than in bits and pieces—obviously, it’s a great way to get everyone’s attention, but give us a little insight into this decision.
Edie Rodriguez (ER): Well, it’s the 25h anniversary of Crystal Cruises and we really wanted to show our most high-valued loyal guests—our Crystal Society members—the future of this brand. We’ve been celebrating the first quarter of the century of the brand and we now wanted to take that forward on the next quarter of the century and beyond. And by the way, it wasn’t all of the announcements, there’s still more to come. So it was just the announcements that we felt would be prudent to associate with our “on the water” strategy, but there is a lot more to come, though not to be discussed yet at this point in time.
MMA: When will the other announcements be shared?
ER: Oh, probably towards the end of this year.
MMA: Tell me a little bit about Esprit, the new Crystal yacht experience. What goodies can clients expect?
ER: Crystal Esprit is launching Dec. 23. She is beautiful and magnificent; I can’t wait to go on her myself. Besides being gorgeous, she’ll be truly outfitted in Crystal spirit. She will have the look and feel of a Crystal Cruises experience, but in a yacht experience. The Esprit will do the Seychelles seasonally and then the Adriatic coast into intimate ports.
She will have a beautiful marina off the back that will have a submarine available for underwater experiences fit for three people, including if a couple wants it for a ceremonial wedding. In addition to that, we will have kayaks and a Zodiac.
Then we will have a 32-ft. wider—and people ask what a wider is. A wider is extraordinary, it’s like a baby yacht. The wider comes out of the side, and we can do special trips on the wider. She can go out in the water into intimate coasts—a lot of different things. She can operate as a tender when we anchor off places to bring people closer in. She can do a lot of fun things and we look forward to taking our 62 Esprit guests for sailing out on the wider for more intimate experiences.
MMA: So, why the Seychelles as the first itinerary for the Esprit?
ER: People, particularly our global luxury traveler, wants a unique destination. So nobody was really, to our knowledge, doing the Seychelles on a regular basis. The Seychelles are big bucket list items for global luxury travelers and we just feel we are filling a need.
MMA: Who is the target clientele for the Crystal yachts? Does it differ from the traditional Crystal client?
ER: It doesn’t really differ, per se. The client for Crystal yacht is a global luxury traveler who is active. There’s a lot of watersports adventure to do on and off of the yachting experience. Age is truly only a number, so as long as somebody is young at heart, healthy enough and wanting to do watersport-type activities, that would be the right audience for this.
MMA: Crystal will be launching Crystal River Cruises in 2017, so what innovations will Crystal bring to the river cruising segment?
ER: We’ll bring a lot of innovation, including the Crystal Exclusive Class river boat vessel, which will be the first of its kind of river boat, as well as the six-star Crystal service. For competitive reasons, beyond what we’ve announced thus far, that’s as far as we’re saying at this point in time. People will have to stand by for more information on that sector.
MMA: The river cruises will begin in Europe, correct? Which rivers—can you provide details?
ER: No. Until we’re ready to announce in great detail what we’re going to announce regarding river, respectfully, I don’t want to give our competition a heads-up into what we’re doing. They will be in a position to shift very quickly, so people will have to be patient.
MMA: Can you tell us more about Crystal Luxury Air, also launching in 2017? What locations will it be traveling to?
ER: Crystal Luxury Air will be a 28-day around-the-world luxury air experience. [The twin-aisle Boeing 787] Dreamliner will be reconfigured in the Crystal Exclusive Class, and instead of seating 300 people, she will seat only 60 guests in flatbeds.
So these 28-day itineraries, which will visit [about] 12 destinations around the world, will literally be curated in the most luxurious manner and will be all-inclusive. Each month it will be a different set of destinations and a different theme. As an example, one theme could be The World’s Greatest Golf Courses and we may begin in New York and fly down to Augusta, Georgia for the U.S. Open, and from there head out to St. Andrews, and so it goes. There will be 12 departures on the first of every month, and exclusively for 60 guests.
MMA: Who is the ideal client?
ER: The ideal client is a wealthy person who doesn’t have time to go on our 128-day World Cruises, but wants to see the world. They do have 28 days they can arrange as long as they’re connected to WiFi. And in those 28 days they want to see the world in a luxurious manner, curated exclusively as only Crystal Cruises curates.
MMA: Can you tell us a little bit about the three ocean-going ships that will debut starting in 2018.
ER: Crystal Cruises will now be getting three new ocean-going vessels—the “triplets” as I refer to them. What will be new about the new Crystal Exclusive Ocean-going vessel is that it will have the highest guest-to-space ratio. The whole ship will be suites, and you will have a one-to-one crew-to-guest ratio. They will also have 48 private residences—condos at sea, if you will. An owner can purchase it and the amount of days they spend on board will be at their discretion
MMA: How do travel agents, in your mind, play into the Crystal expansion—what’s their role in all of this, especially knowing that Crystal products practically sell themselves?
ER: They absolutely do sell themselves, but we are very bullish on our travel agent partners around the world. Crystal Cruises has enjoyed a strong partnership with agents; 96 percent of all of our bookings come through travel agents. It is suffice to say, we are the largest, or one of the largest, endorsers of travel agents. Many cruise lines have less than 50 percent of their bookings coming through agents, we, at 96 percent, really welcome the agent partners to really articulate our brand experiences to the consumers. We fully intend for that to continue just as it always has—a strong partnership. I have a very strong partnership with the trade, and Crystal Cruises has a very strong partnership with the trade, and we fully expect that to continue.
MMA: Finally, my last question has nothing to do with the recent announcements. During a Miami-based lunch meeting a few months back, when the new travel opportunities to Cuba were just coming out, you mentioned that Crystal would love to sail to Cuba in the future. Has there been any progress with those plans yet?
ER: Well, of course, like every prudent cruise line and executive, we have our plans ready to go. The challenge is that we want to be sensitive to our Cuban-American community and our Cuban-American guests who sail with us. So, as a result, we really have no desire to be first in that market. We really want it to be safe. When we go there, we will want to be sure that everything is in order. While others are rushing to go there, we are in no rush. We are certainly, from a strategic planning standpoint, ready to go if we decide to flip that switch. But, right now we’re taking a wait-and-see approach. And again, we want to be very sensitive to our Cuban-American community.