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Silversea Cruises’ new president for the Americas, Ellen Bettridge, is shaping her team, polishing the product and working on pricing issues, while working hard to build stronger ties with agents.
Bettridge came to Silversea Cruises in mid-April after 20 years with American Express, an experience that left her with a determination to help agents become consultants, not order-takers.
“What was driven into my mind is that agents must partner with the client, and most do not do it,” she said. “You must listen to what the customers want and ask them ‘What do you want to get out of your vacation?’ Then understand whom they are traveling with and what their expectations are. You must set the client’s expectations before they sail.”
She said Silversea Cruises has been very successful with the luxury expedition vessel Silversea Explorer and is now adding a ship in the Galapagos with the acquisition of the Ecuadorian company Canodros and its Galapagos Explorer II.
“We access a new type of customer with expedition cruising,” Bettridge said. “They include families, a younger demographic, a real mix. And we have been successful in converting them to other Silversea cruises afterward. We will have a small dry-dock in September and then a much deeper one next year with changes such as new bathrooms. At that point we will rename the ship with the Silversea brand.”
Differentiating Silversea Cruises from other luxury brands is high on Bettridge’s list of priorities.
“Luxury is all about choices,” she said. “We give customers an incredible number of choices — what kind of mattress, what kind of pillow, what scent, very high-quality restaurants to choose from. In addition, there is our butler service and the fact that these smaller ships can offer a higher level of service than those with more passengers.”
Another differentiator is the international quality of the Silversea ship, where guests from the Americas typically account for about 60 percent of passengers.
“There is a strong appeal in this, if the clients’ expectations are shaped correctly before sailing,” Bettridge said. “Ours is a highly educated traveler looking for new experiences, so the international quality of the clientele is a real advantage.”
Bettridge is working closely with Steve Odell, president of Europe and Asia Pacific for Silversea, planning 2013 and 2014 and working on Silversea’s pricing.
“The industry got involved in some heavy price competition, and we need a strategy that is not based that way,” she said.
She also is very excited about working with the new vice president of marketing, Keith Spondike, who brought back the Cadillac brand and worked with a private jet company.
“He has a wealth of knowledge about the luxury customer,” Bettridge said.
Bettridge continually stresses the importance of agents, a result of her American Express days and her early background with the company as a frontline agent.
“We are not doing enough business with some agencies and we are in the process of looking at how to support them better,” she added. “We will have a focus on national accounts, probably centered on one person, not yet identified.”
She said Silversea will probably add in-house people to create a robust group that can support mid-size and small agencies, and that there will be people in the field as well. She has already begun extensive work with consortia in a whirl of activity that probably won’t end anytime soon.
“My intent is to see Silversea Cruises be the best and highest priced product in the industry,” she said, “and to help agents feel comfortable in selling this level of luxury.”