Cruise Shipping Miami’s Upscale Panel Weighs In

Panelists discuss changing times in the industry

By: By Marilyn Green

Holland America Award at SeaTrade // (c) 2010

Holland America Award at SeaTrade

At this year’s Cruise Shipping Miami Conference, formerly known as Seatrade, the luxury panel was dubbed the Upscale Panel, a choice applauded by president and CEO of Azamara Cruises Larry Pimentel, who noted that the traditional designations of contemporary, premium and luxury are unknown to the consumer and much less meaningful than they previously were.

Pimentel contended that the high-end experience, with its emphasis on exclusivity, is available vertically on large ships like Oasis of the Seas, as well as the traditional smaller luxury vessels, a sentiment echoed by Peter Shanks, president and managing director of Cunard Line. Both executives stressed the high level of accommodations and dining available within the larger ships and the extensive choice of entertainment demanded by the new luxury cruiser and deliverable on a larger ship.

Pimentel referred to the loft suites and 150 Central Park experiences on Oasis.

“With 100 guests and a world-class chef, you don’t even see the other 5,000 guests,” he said.

He described this as a vertical sales structure with multiple entry points on the same vessel.

Shanks made a similar point about the Queen’s and Princess Grill classes on Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 and noted that upscale customers expect the luxury of considerable space and that, on a large ship, you can have accommodations like the Balmoral Suite at more than 2,000 square feet.

Pimentel and others emphasized that the number-one reason for travel, according to Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure, is an authentic encounter with a destination and culture, experiencing it in a different way from the norm.

Given the importance of the destinations, panelists were asked how the cruise lines could control or shape shore excursions to fulfill guests’ desires, since they don’t have the same level of participation that they do onboard the ships.

Greg Michel, president and CEO of Crystal Cruises, stressed keeping a close watch and a presence on the shore experiences and to be prepared to help if there are glitches.

Pimentel said that, with destinations playing such a vital role in the cruise experience, it is important for guests to have a chance to sample several aspects of a port and to see it in its element. To that end, he said, Azamara is slowing down the ships and offering two- and three-night stays in rich destinations.

Terri Haas, chief commercial officer, North America, for Compagnie du Ponant, noted that her French line, which is entering the FIT and meetings market in North America, offers a highly authentic and upscale French experience with exposure to ports far beyond the usual ones, with 22 ports of call in Italy, 12 on the Dalmatian coast, and more, exactly in line with the luxury customer’s demand.

It is the demands of this younger, more active affluent customer that Pamela Conover, president and CEO of The Yachts of Seabourn, analyzed for the panel.

“[Clients] are more active even if they aren’t young,” she added. “And they are less formal. They have eclectic taste and are more adventurous in food and drink; they are voracious for variety.”

Conover added, “The good thing is that they are definitely buying and coming back again and again.”

Michel added that today’s upscale client is more than value-conscious.

“They are looking for the same or better product at a lower price — and we’re giving it to them,” he stated.

Pimentel voiced a widespread concern about the unique group of agents who support the upscale segment, most of whom are over age 50. He said he is not seeing young people coming in, while the market is changing as even high-end consumers go to the Web to compare value.

This same consumer is an international one, more than ever before. Globalization of the upscale market was a constant theme for the panel, with Amerigo Perasso, president and CEO of Silversea Cruises, foreseeing emerging markets like Asia eventually eclipsing North America and Europe.


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