Skift Take

Azamara's focus on the shore is serving the company well, but at some point its 17-year-old ships will be ready to retire. What does the future hold for this brand, especially as travel companies around the globe try to deliver authentic local experiences?

Azamara Club Cruises, the tiny high-end line with a big focus on land, is finding new ways to deliver experiences on the ground.

The brand is planning country-intensive cruises, more exclusive, curated activities in port, and more voyages built around major sports and entertainment events.

Azamara president and CEO Larry Pimentel announced the initiative at a recent press event in New York City, calling it a brand positioning evolution 18 months in the making.

“We have found out that authentic, localized travel which is exclusive is one of the very hot buttons that turn people on about going to a destination,” Pimentel said. “The more we can connect people to people and to culture in a deeper, more ingrained way, the more the clients want to be with us.”

As part of the renewed focus, the line rolled out a new mantra: “Stay longer. Experience more.” And Azamara is introducing a series of land programs built around the notion of making local connections while cruising globally.

This year, the brand’s two ships will visit 203 ports in 68 countries, and the line is offering more than 1,000 curated experiences “that can’t be Googled,” Pimentel said.

“You can’t find them,” he said. “We’re creating them. And that’s the difference.”

Land programs will include an emphasis on food, shopping, biking, golf, walking, and other pursuits. Some will allow passengers to stay on shore overnight.

Other trips will be built around big events including the British Open, Cannes Film Festival, and the Monaco Grand Prix.

“This crowd is really interesting; the person who’s going to the British Open where the ship is parked for days honestly doesn’t care much about the ship. They’re there for golf,” Pimentel said. For trips structured around an event, he said the experience is “almost in some ways a no-cruise cruise. We’re more of a tour operation.”

New country-intensive itineraries will spend the bulk of a trip visiting multiple ports in countries such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Croatia, and Norway. Because the line’s ships are relatively small, they can get to destinations that are hard for larger competitors to reach.

Azamara, which eschews formal nights for a “resort casual” atmosphere, has long touted its emphasis on destinations; about half of its stops include a late or even overnight stays in port.

Part of Royal Caribbean Cruises, the line has just two 690-passenger ships. Both were built in 2000, entered service for Azamara when it launched in 2007, and got extensive updates last year. Every stateroom was redone, Pimentel said.

“They were rebuilt; it was from aft to bow,” he said.

Those renovations come as other players in the high-end cruise space debut new hardware. Seabourn and Regent Seven Seas, both luxury competitors, launched new vessels last year. Newcomer Viking Ocean Cruises welcomed two ships in the last couple years and has four more coming by 2019. And Oceania Cruises, which operates four vessels that are sisters to Azamara’s, also sails ships built in 2011 and 2012.

But Pimentel said research commissioned by the line has shown that ships were not the main driver for travelers.

“At the end of the day they didn’t talk about bigger spaces, they didn’t talk about more opulence,” he said. “They talked about connection.”

Pimentel is confident that, for Azamara, the approach has been working. He said bookings for 2017 have been record-setting, with rates continuing to climb, and the company is managing to reach the coveted new-to-cruise market.

“The big shocker for us is 21, 22 percent of those guests have never been on a ship in their life,” Pimentel said.

While Royal Caribbean is known for building the world’s largest cruise ships — and other global companies are also sailing megaships — Pimentel said he thinks there is still enough interest and demand to warrant new small vessels.

“Despite the fact that the big ships are being built at a massive amount, I’m going to tell you small ships are going to be built too,” he said. “There are people who will pay a premium enough to keep this in the space to offer the uniqueness of the destination, the people, and the culture.”

At the press event, a reporter asked if any of those new small ships would be for Azamara.

“From your lips to God’s ears,” Pimentel said.


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Tags: azamara, cruises, royal caribbean cruises

Photo credit: Azamara is putting an even greater focus on land experiences with new activities and itineraries. Here, the Azamara Quest is shown in Sydney Harbour. Azamara Club Cruises

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