Caption: Voyages to Antiquity has canceled itineraries in North Africa this season. // © 2011 Voyages to Antiquity
As social and political unrest shift from one country to another, cruise lines are fortunate to be able to adapt, and this ability has been used at a fast pace lately. Just as the major companies were announcing resumption of sailings calling in Egypt, unrest heated up in Libya and neighboring nations. This prompted a flurry of decisions among the cruise lines, which had responded to lifted restrictions by scheduling a number of luxury and expedition cruises to ports that are now off the radar.
Cruise lines that had recently announced plans to go into Libya have canceled those calls. Crystal Cruises’ 11-night Mediterranean cruise on the Crystal Serenity, scheduled to take place this November, has canceled its call in Tripoli. In early April, Azamara Club Cruises announced that it would eliminate its planned first call in fall 2012. Although the political situation may be very different by then, customers were already booking and the company wanted to be sure that it could operate what the itinerary offered, rather than making changes closer to the departure date.
All of this is familiar territory for Mitchell Schlesinger, vice president of sales and marketing for Voyages to Antiquity. His experience as a marketing and sales executive at Orient Lines stands him in good stead now that Voyages to Antiquity traces the paths of ancient cultures in the Mediterranean, Adriatic, Aegean and Red seas. The lure of these regions for North Americans is undeniable — Voyages to Antiquity, launched in 2009, has successfully attracted 70 percent of its passengers from North America.
However, adaptability has been a necessity for the line, since it sails into what Schlesinger terms “fascinating places where experienced travelers want to go, and where sometimes difficult things happen.”
“We are living through full-scale changes in how countries rule themselves,” he said, “and now we are seeing a domino effect.”
In 2010, the company was the only cruise line that took Americans into Libya but, this year, Voyages to Antiquity had to cancel two cruises/tours to North Africa, scheduled for March 26 and April 4 that included calls in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya.
At first, Voyages to Antiquity dismantled the two cruises and created a new, attractive 14-night itinerary. However, with reports of violence in Tripoli, the company had to cancel the new itinerary as well, and its season will commence on April 15 with a Rome to Venice cruise/tour.
Voyages to Antiquity is not scheduled to return to North Africa or the Red Sea until Nov. 25, and the line is making contingency plans in case that cruise has to be changed. For now, it is maintaining the planned schedule.
With the 2012 books opening at the end of this month, and the new brochure coming out in early May, much of the line’s expansion is in areas that look quite stable. Voyages to Antiquity has increased its presence in Croatia, and the company has added a 12-night roundtrip Athens itinerary.
For next year, Voyages to Antiquity is adjusting its pricing, raising the price on the bottom half of the ship, while slightly reducing rates for the upper half. The number of departures will increase from 22 this year to 25 in 2012, and the line plans to charter a number of sailings in international markets during the summer (when FIT sales are most difficult because of the heat).
Given the strong interest among baby boomers in exactly this kind of vacation experience, the necessarily nimble alterations look like a reasonable tradeoff and, certainly, this team knows how to manage them.