Crystal Cruises’ Expansion: Agents are (Mostly) Enthusiasticby Charlie Duerr /
Travel agents have reacted with optimism and excitement over the new opportunities presented by Crystal Cruises’ expansion plan announced last month.
“I couldn’t be happier about the expansion plans,” said Adrienne Forst, a luxury travel specialist at Protravel International, a Virtuoso agency in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Forst noted Crystal’s plan to move in to river cruising as exciting news. The scope of the expansion, however, reaches far beyond just one area of growth.
Funded by an investment from parent company Genting Hong Kong, which acquired Crystal for $550 million in May of this year, the next several years will see Crystal entering the growing river cruise market with its Crystal River Cruises division, as well as expanding its current two-ship fleet with three new ships, a luxury yacht and a state-of-the-art private airplane.
Time for a change
In a recent interview with Travel Market Report, Crystal president and CEO Edie Rodriguez explained why the time is right to make a change.
“Strategically, [the expansion is] all about being a customer-driven organization,” she said. “In doing the research, it was really good to see we have such power in our brand equity. Now we have a new owner who is willing to invest in expansion.”
Agents agreed that Crystal was due for an update.
“I think the plans are interesting and overall very positive,” said Eric Goldring of Goldring Travel in Colts Neck, N.J.
“Crystal needs new ships for a variety of reasons and the new ones clearly are focused on dropping the premium aspects of the product and focusing on the higher profit luxury market.”
Good for the industry
Peggy Rosenthal, a CruiseOne franchisee in Bella Vista, Ark. said the plans are not only good for agents, but for the industry at large.
“Expansion is a good thing for the travel industry,” Rosenthal explained. “It brings more choice to the market, providing products and services that meet the wants and needs of global travelers.”
And while the bulk of the plans won’t be realized for at least a couple of years—Crystal River Cruises is scheduled to launch iin 2017—travelers will get a taste of the new fleet when the Crystal Esprit enters service in December.
The Crystal Esprit represents a new class of small shipping cruising for the cruise line. The “yacht-like” vessel will sail to destinations including Italy, Dubai, Greece and Croatia. Itineraries are available exclusively to Crystal Society members—travelers that have completed at least one full-revenue Crystal cruise of five days or longer.
The new plans also will have no effect on the fact that agents remain essential partners in Crystal’s future, according to Rodriguez. She has said that 96% of bookings come from travel agents and she expected that trend to continue.
As the brand aims to carve out a larger piece of the luxury market, agents anticipate a strong relationship with Crystal.
“I can sell a Crystal Cruise without a doubt in my mind that my client will be well looked after and cared for,” said Leah Bergner, a sales consultant at Coastline Travel Advisors, a Virtuoso member agency in Garden Grove, Calif.
Too early to tell?
Other agents, however, are more cautious about the potential impact of the expansion if only because they say it’s too early to tell how the new ships will be received by clients and how they will match up against those of Crystal’s competitors.
“Crystal presently has a fine product,” Goldring said. “What will matter the most is how the product is positioned versus the smaller Seabourn and Silversea ships.”
Goldring said the cruise line’s expansion plans will have no immediate effect on his business or the cruise options he presents to clients. With bookings for the 2018 and 2019 season still a year away, its unclear exactly what—if any—effect there will be.