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With its recent sale to Genting Hong Kong, two-ship line Crystal Cruises is planning dramatic expansion, aiming to become the world’s premiere global hospitality and luxury lifestyle brand. Edie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Crystal, told media that the company’s unparalleled quality is its greatest asset and platform for growth.
“We have won top honors for 20 years from Travel & Leisure and for 21 years from Conde Nast Traveler,” Rodriguez said.
She likened these accomplishments to an actor receiving an Academy Award and a Golden Globe every year for 20 years.
“It just doesn’t happen,” she said. “And we’ve done it.”
When Crystal was put up for sale, Rodriguez says she told the interested parties, “If you’re not willing to spend billions, the brand will die. I believe you either grow or die.”
She now has a like-minded partner in Genting chairman Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, who Rodriguez describes as an “amazing visionary.” According to Rodriguez, Kok Thay showed her his private yacht, MegaStar Taurus, and asked, “What do you think? Can you sell it?”
The result is the first additional vessel for Crystal and the launch of Crystal Yacht Cruises at the end of this year, when the ship emerges from refurbishment as the all-suite, 62-passenger Crystal Esprit, with features including a three-person submarine, “perfect for underwater weddings,” Rodriguez said.
She foresees strong charter business for the yacht, which is being sold exclusively to former passengers until Sept. 1. Itineraries through 2018 range from the Seychelles to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and the Adriatic.
For 2017, Genting is ordering two initial river cruise vessels in Europe for the brand, each around 150 passengers, as well as a Boeing 787 Dreamliner private jet for trips around the world in the same year.
Crystal will debut three polar-class, 1,000-passenger ships beginning in 2018, with 1,000 crewmembers — a 1:1 ratio with passengers. Built at Lloyd Werft with all-suite, all-balcony accommodations starting at 400 square feet, Crystal Exclusive Class ocean vessels will each have as many as 48 residences measuring up to 4,000-plus feet on the top decks, priced in line with the multimillion-dollar condominium market.
Without setting final pricing, Crystal is already seeing interest in the residences, according to Rodriguez, and she hinted that some buyers may choose to purchase more than one residence and combine them, reducing the number overall. The first ship is scheduled to arrive by the end of 2018. Lloyd Werft also has the contract to build the two European river cruise ships, each around 150 passengers. Crystal’s on-the-water cruise commission structure will remain as it is now, Rodriguez says, and the company is currently evaluating how to handle the sales of the residences.
Plans for the Dreamliner involve modifying a 300-passenger plane to accommodate just 60 guests in flat-reclining business-class seats and luggage without limitation.
“Clients can buy wood carvings in Bali and carpets in Turkey and bring them home with them,” Rodriguez said.
The flights are aimed at affluent travelers who have limited time and want to travel the world. On the first of each month, the plane will depart for a 28-day itinerary calling in 10 to 12 exotic destinations. Guests will be accommodated in the world’s finest hotels, and dining will be inspired by the itinerary and designed by celebrity chefs, with top entertainment also part of the package.
Although it is perfectly possible to go from one Crystal travel experience to another, the company is not coordinating them to mesh, Rodriguez says, which leaves a very interesting opening for a luxury travel agent who wants to combine two or more elements for clients.
The new moves were simultaneously announced on the 2015 President’s Cruise on Crystal Serenity and the Chairman’s Cruise on Crystal Symphony. Rodriguez noted that those who questioned why she was building up her team in recent months could now understand her strategy.
Her dream team now includes veteran cruise line executive Helen Panagos as vice president of marketing and sales for Crystal Yacht Cruises; Carmen Roig, senior vice president of marketing and sales; Bruce Setloff, vice president of global charter sales and special projects; and Claudius Docekal, vice president of deployment, all based in the company’s new offices in Miami. Donna Cook, formerly director of sales for the Western U.S. and Canada, was promoted to vice president of quality control and communications and is based in the Los Angeles corporate headquarters.
With the team in place, Rodriguez has no doubts about being able to sell the expanded ultra-luxury travel inventory, pointing out that the actual numbers are low compared to those of a megaship. She projects that the company will see sales of 50 percent from North America and 50 percent internationally.
And there may be even more ahead: When asked about luxury hotels under the Crystal brand, Rodriguez said that the company is by no means finished making announcements.