Luxury passengers want intuitive service, interesting destinations and comfortable shipboard spaces, but beyond that the definition of "luxury" is an individual thing, according to cruise line executives attending the Cruise Shipping Miami conference.
"You need to know your client, but you have to understand what does it mean to be a luxury customer," said David Dingle, CEO of Cunard.
"There are two types we find. One has the view, 'Because I am a wealthy person I expect every aspect to be exactly what I want it to be and the whole holiday will conform to my whims,'” he said.
“The other is, 'It's a symbol of my success,' and they want to elevate themselves into a society where they think they belong, to assert the fact they have arrived.”
He said Cunard gets more of the cruisers who want to be "more a part of the elevated social gathering, where you feel you belong."
With both experiences, passengers expect to be "waited on hand and foot,” Dingle said.
Agents selling luxury travel shouldn’t recommend anything until they understand what the client really wants, advised Dingle.
"How to sell a Cunard cruise? Know the client first," he said. "Know what they like, what turns them on, what type of vacations they have been on."
The right match
Christine Duffy, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), said the key for agents selling any type of cruise is to be an expert.
"There is a right cruise for everyone, but we really have to make sure the right person gets on the right cruise because if there is a mis-match there, I think you lose them," Duffy said.
Other cruise line execs offered their take on luxury cruises at a panel on Upscale Cruises.
Crystal Cruises president and CEO Edie Rodriquez said it's important to recognize that even luxury travelers want value.
They may love luxury brands in everything from clothes to watches to cars to vacations, but "They want luxury at the price they want to pay," she said.
Larry Pimentel, president of Azamara Club Cruises, noted that, "One person's luxury is not necessarily another's.”
For many passengers the destination is as important as the ship itself, Pimentel said. Azamara includes longer than average port stays in its itineraries.
All-inclusive cruises particularly appeal to luxury travelers because these clients are a social group who want to connect with other guests, said Bob Lepisto, president of SeaDream Yacht Club.
"With all-inclusives no one has to question who is going to pick up the bar tab," Lepisto explained.
But, he said, one the goals of the luxury cruising segment should be to educate travel sellers on the value all-inclusive cruises provide compared, for instance, to costlier vacations involving five-star hotels in the Mediterranean.
Diane Moore, president of Paul Gauguin Cruises, noted that agents stand to net a lot of profit selling luxury cruises.
A misperception the luxury lines fight is the notion they are all about formality, according to Richard Meadows, president of Seabourn.
Today's luxury experience can be let-your-hair-down casual, he said, but added that excellent service continues to be key to that experience. The crew is trained to never say no, also a good lesson for travel agents, he added.