Cruise lines have the luxury of going in and out of nearly any port they choose, making it easier for them to respond to geopolitical changes as well as changing consumer tastes.
The new luxury traveler is in search of novelty and experience. Travel providers continually have to adapt their offerings to meet these considerations. Today, we talk to a CEO from Azamara Club Cruises and a CXO (Chief Expedition Officer) from Lindblad Expeditions to discover what’s next from their waterborne perspectives.
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Azamara Club Cruises operates two 690-passenger ships that travel the world. The line distinguishes itself with “Destination Immersion” programming, which capitalizes on longer stays in port, more overnights, and night touring. Cruise industry veteran Larry Pimentel is president and chief executive officer.
Lindblad Expeditions specializes in expedition cruises and adventure experiences covering all seven continents. Lindblad markets and sells its voyages to a variety of channels and is the exclusive maritime operator for the National Geographic Society. Chief Expedition Officer Trey Byus has been with the company for nearly 25 years, working his way up from leading expeditions to leading the company.
The original transcripts have been edited for length and some chronology has been altered to keep discussion of specific topics together. Clarifications to the topics discussed are in parentheses.
Skift: How does your company go about selecting new markets? What are your criteria?
Larry Pimentel: Our guests are well-traveled and seeking deeper travel experiences. With the launch of “Cruise Global, Connect Local,” we seek out destinations where we can curate authentic and enriching local offerings so that our guests staying longer in port can experience much more. Our smaller ships afford us the opportunity to take passengers to smaller ports where most of the larger ships can’t sail to. While we may continue to be deployed in the same areas of the world, we are constantly incorporating new ports into our itineraries.
Trey Byus: Considering new destinations is a fairly comprehensive exercise.
First and foremost, we listen to our guests. They tell us where they want to go and we determine how feasible it is to go there. With ships, it is a bit more complex, because you can’t just consider the singular destination, you need to consider the route to get there, whether or not there are marketing challenges, or weather issues. Of course, the most important criteria for a new destination is determining it is a place where we can deliver an extraordinary experience. We are not going to waste our guests’ time and money by taking them someplace that does not blow them away.
Skift: Is your company entering new markets this year or next?
Pimentel: We have just celebrated our first sailing to Cuba in March – with new voyages recently announced. We are also sailing in the Indian Ocean —Seychelles and the Maldives — for the first time this year. In 2018, Azamara will go to 30 maiden ports, including Adelaide and Perth in Australia; Dundee, Scotland; and Gdansk, Poland; and two new stops each in Indonesia and the United Arab Emirates. We have announced our 2019 sailings, which include 45 maiden ports including Alaska itineraries, nine new stops in Japan and three in New Zealand.
Byus: Given our 50 years of experience in this industry, it is actually hard to find places we haven’t been before. So, it’s often a case of re-visiting a place after many years. Or visiting a place at a time of year, or in a way that we have not done. One example is our new voyage to Western Greenland. We generally leave Greenland by the end of August. But this year, we are staying well into September, because the Northern Lights really get going during this month. We’re packaging this with Iceland (via round-trip charter air from Reykjavik to Greenland) that gives a full experience in a short amount of time – just one week. In addition, we’ve just concluded our first-ever season in Cuba. Next year, we are returning to the South Pacific, visiting familiar islands, but also some new stops, including in Samoa. And just by the very nature of expedition travel, we are constantly visiting new bays, coves, fjords, islands and villages.
Skift: Gazing into your crystal ball, what is/are going to be the hot new luxury destination(s) in three to five years?
Pimentel: Cuba is certainly a destination that we already see travelers gravitating to. We expect Australia and New Zealand will continue to be top travel destinations for our upscale travelers. Our hope is to be able to return to some of the most magnificent destinations such as Egypt, Turkey, and the Black Sea — all destinations we have had to leave for now due to geopolitical issues.These destinations all provide experiences. That is what affluent travelers are looking for today. It’s all about experiential travel, exclusivity, authentic and localized experiences, and it’s about the human connection.
Byus: I think expedition is the new luxury. Travelers are still going to want first-class amenities, accommodations and service. But even more so, they will continue to put a premium on an authentic expedition experience. That includes real exploration, in-depth dialogue about the region, exploring in active ways. Snorkeling and scuba diving on the most pristine reefs on the planet. Connecting with remote communities. So I think the ‘hottest’ destinations are going to be those that are explored in the true style and spirit of expedition travel.
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Photo credit: An Azamara ship at sea. The line's CEO says that the company is targeting local, authentic experiences (like the rest of the travel industry). Azamara Club Cruises