Charting the Success of a Niche with Voyages to Antiquity

Mitchell Schlesinger talks with TAW about product changes for 2011 and broadening the customer base By: Marilyn Green
Mitchell Schlesinger
Mitchell Schlesinger

Mitchell J. Schlesinger, vice president of sales and marketing for Voyages to Antiquity, describes the company’s first year as “very, very successful”, as the line announces developments to its product and marketing as it moves into a strong 2011.

“We had such a short time to launch initially,” he said. “We got into the marketplace in September 2009 and started operation in May 2010. We were very generous, especially in eliminating the single supplement during 2010, and the agents responded; 95 percent of our bookings came through the trade.”

Moving into 2011, Schlesinger said Voyages to Antiquity has made very significant changes, many of them in the spirit of the former Orient Lines. In 2010 the company’s actual cruises were mostly 14 days, and the core audience was 60-plus. Now the product is organized as cruise/tours, all with pre- and/or post-cruise hotel stays built in like additional ports of call, with the actual sailings running 7-12 nights in length.

“We can market these aggressively to the 40-60-year-old working baby boomer population along with the older guests,” Schlesinger noted. “Ten days is really the core length for Europe, and the savings on the land side is very attractive.” In addition, the arrangement, together with an expanded season, gives the line 24 departures in 2011, compared to 16 in 2010.

He said the booking pace for 2011 has been extraordinary, with four times the volume compared to the same time as last year, and the first weeks of January have shaped up as some of the strongest.

He attributes the success of the company to its niche placement and brand distinction as a specialist in classical civilization. This was the only line to take North Americans to Libya in 2010 and Schlesinger says it is the only mainstream line to do so in 2011. “The Libyans were very welcoming,” he added, “and the guests who sailed there in November had a great experience.” The line will also offer an unusual Black Sea itinerary and across the board provides passengers with opportunities to penetrate civilizations that are usually visited only as short calls, as in Sicily, where they spend two or three days.

The line’s partnership with the Archaeological Institute of America is expanding, as well, with 14 cruises carrying a member who will lecture in a specialty, promoted by the organization and through Voyages to Antiquity’s advertising in magazines like Smithsonian and National Geographic Traveler.

Schlesinger said 70-75 percent of the guests are from North America and virtually all the rest are from the U.K. and Australia. With the season extended this year, starting in March, and probably even longer next year with earlier Red Sea itineraries, they are meeting demand that boomed over the holidays and is continuing into the year. “

“California is our most productive region in the U.S.,” Schlesinger said, “with Arizona and Texas also very strong. I work with agents personally – that’s one of the advantages of a small company - and they can readily identify who will be attracted to this product.”
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