Agents Embrace Windstar’s Spiffy New Flagship & Biz Plan
by Fran Golden

Under new ownership, sailing yacht line Windstar Cruises threw a coming out party of sorts last week, hosting top travel sellers on a Caribbean cruise to show off its newly upgraded flagship, the 310-passenger Wind Surf.

Acquired last year by Xanterra Parks & Resorts, a subsidiary of Anschutz Corp., Windstar is here to stay and looking to expand, said president and CEO Hans Birkholz.

The line is also committed to working with travel agents, he said. (See sidebar.)

Upgrades & expansions
An $18 million fleet-wide refurbishment – which also includes upgrades to the 148-passenger Wind Star and Wind Spirit – is just the beginning.

He declined to name names, but said the company is looking at acquiring more yachts – not necessarily with sails.

Agents onboard the Wind Surf applauded the line for the ship’s more elegant look and feel – including in dining.

They also noted its restraint in not going too far into the luxury category. Powered in part by sails – which are computer-operated – the yachts have a casual charm that Windstar took care to maintain.

Wind Surf enhancements
New features on Wind Surf include expanded open deck space (created by eliminating one pool) and the addition of the intimate, reservations-only Stella Bistro, serving French-influenced cuisine at no extra charge. The main restaurant also has a new look and feel with upgraded menus and a new name, AmphorA.

Agents review the ship
Here's what agency executives onboard Wind Surf had to say about the upgrades and the cruise line's future.

What do you like best about the Wind Surf refurbishment?
"It's chic. It's contemporary, but also very elegant. One of the nicest areas is the AmphorA Restaurant, which is exquisitely beautiful, with subtle colors, banquettes and special dining areas within the restaurant. The alternative dining options are terrific too." -- Vanessa Lee, president, Cruise Strategies, Toronto

"The comfort. Luxury can be overstated and scary to some people. This is very comfortable – luxurious, but a comfortable luxury." -- Bill Smith, vice president of cruise sales, Virtuoso

What most impresses you about the Windstar experience?
"The thing that I love is the 'luxury as you like it' [such as the optional drinks package]. I believe that is dead-on exactly what luxury and affluent customers are looking for. They really want to design their own experience," -- Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc.

"The dedication of the crew. The amount of time people have stayed with this line through different ownership changes, and how committed the crew is, is something you don't find very often. The captain has been with Windstar from the beginning, some 20 years ago. That stands out." -- Mark Schiffner, vice president and COO, Cruise Holidays

"I ordered a drink. The bartender introduced himself formally, shook my hand, asked my name. When I visited the same bar a few hours later, he remembered my name and came back with the drink I ordered. I think that's amazing." -- Erin Ridgeway, luxury cruise manager, World Travel Holdings

How should agents sell this product?
"Agents need to understand their customer and match this type of product – country club casual – with that sort of customer. You aren't going to see any black ties, so you need to be talking to the customer who's not into black ties. There's also a little soft adventure component to this product, so if you have a customer asking for soft adventure, this is great for them. And I would definitely put honeymooners on this product." -- Dwain Wall

"This is for clients looking for something a little different. They still look for that elegance, luxury and comfort, but they want it in a unique setting. Go up topside, and you see sails. Passengers may not be sailors, but they like that this is a different experience." – Bill Smith

"Windstar sees its target demographic as a little older, 45 to 70. I think this can also be for an adventuresome kind of passenger, 35 or 40-ish who wants something different, something new – not a big ship kind of person. But that's going to take the agency community to educate folks on that.” -- Mark Schiffner

How do you see Windstar positioned in the market?
"They are in a sweet spot. Look at the passengers on this ship. It's a very interesting age group, that 55-plus kind of group. It's the early retiree or just retired, and that is the future of travel for the next 15 or 20 years. They are in a good place. " -- Dwain Wall

"The guest doesn't want a pretentious atmosphere or a stuffy atmosphere. The key here is the goose bump quotient. How many ships or yachts give you goose bumps when you set sail? Not very many, and that is what Windstar is all about, the freedom and the goose bumps. They hit a home run with the renovations. It's a sexy product.” -- Vanessa Lee

"I like where they are going with the packaging and excursions and making it a little bit more experience-focused, destination-focused." -- Erin Ridgeway

What's the message you'll bring back to your agents?
"Get over what happened with the product, the company four or five years ago. They can be confident the product is here, offering a great selling opportunity, and guests will go and get back to them that they had a great experience." -- Bill Smith

"Number one, they can have confidence in the company. Through the years, that was the biggest problem. Now I think we can have confidence in the company, in their vision, in where they are going. You can put your client on and feel good about it.” -- Mark Schiffner

"The message I plan on delivering to my agent team is the passion I sensed from everyone in the company and the future of Windstar. The 35% to 40% repeat rate can help the agent sell the product. That's great for the number of ships they have in the fleet." -- Erin Ridgeway

“Speaking to travel agents as a travel agent I am very confident in this product." -- Dwain Wall

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