How do you define luxury? A penthouse suite in a five-star hotel? A country manor? Or, more likely given that you are reading this, a cruise ship?
The word ‘luxury’ now carries with it so much baggage that for many it has lost a lot of its meaning, which is understandable given that your definition of luxury will be virtually unique. All of this goes to make running a luxury cruise line quite a challenge – how do you differentiate yourself from both your cruise competitors and the wider market? For Richard Twynam, managing director of Azmara Club Cruises, it all comes down to experiencing a destination. He explained to Cruise Adviser why no one does destination better than Azamara.
CA: What is the luxury traveller looking for?
RT: We’ve just done a load of research on what it is the luxury traveller wants, from Baby Boomers, to Generation X, Generation Y and Millennials. And, without exception, they are all looking for experiences. I spoke at the Clia conference and said that Millennials are not looking for a one size fits all holiday, which is a great way to describe it. All luxury travellers are looking for authentic, local experiences that are tailored towards them. We are living in the era of experientialism. The way we translate that at Azamara is: ‘memories live longer than dreams’.
CA: How do you sell on the back of that?
RT: Azamara focuses on destinations with longer stays, more overnights and night touring so for us it is about experiencing the destination. Lots of cruise lines do a brilliant job selling different aspects of their holiday but for us it’s all about where we go. We are a boutique, luxury product. It’s about those money can’t buy experiences like being on one of our AzAmazing Evenings like being on a super yacht in Sydney Harbour in 2016. It’s those once in a lifetime experiences that we focus on.
CA: How do you differentiate yourself from other luxury travel brands?
RT: Well, what we have that luxury brands like Belmond, Four Seasons and Shangri-La don’t is the ability to go to a new place every single day. Now, you can do that with those companies, by going to the different Shagri-La hotels for example, but it wouldn’t make for a particularly relaxing trip! Within the cruise sector I would say that it depends on an individual’s definition of luxury. Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas has loft suites that sell for £20,000 a week. That’s a luxury buy whatever way you look at it. Celebrity has Sky suites for £5,000 a week. At Azamara we can sell you a suite for £10,000-£20,000, which is also a luxury buy. All three brands offer you something different. Luxury is not homogenous and the great thing about cruising is that there is a luxury product for everyone.
CA: Are you surprised that cruise lines don’t focus on destination more?
RT: At Azamara we only talk destination, now there are 18 other cruise lines who use destination as one of their brand pillars but it isn’t exclusively what they talk about. So what they will say is our food is great, our spa is amazing, our crew is fantastic and then there are also the destinations we go to. We purely sell on destination. We purposefully undersell the ship and the service because we know that our guests will come to us for a destination and leave us completely in love with the ship, which is why we have over 50 per cent repeat rates
CA: Is there a typical Azamara customer?
RT: They are over 50, affluent, erudite, are in to reading and looking after themselves. However, most of all they love experiences and travel, which is why our new strapline is: ‘voyages for those who love travel’.
CA: How did the TV programme with Nigel Marven come about?
RT: That was really fortuitous. Nigel is a great guy who was a guest lecturer for us already. Nigel and Larry Pimentel (Azamara’s CEO) have a mutual friend at the Discovery Channel, which is how the programme first came about. It then got syndicated by Watch. It is a brilliant series because it highlights the fact that because we are in port for longer you can do all of these things. When in Mumbai we learnt that the world’s greatest concentration of leopards are 20 minutes outside of the city. He hosted shore excursions with guests and saw whales in Antarctica. We’re now talking to him now about maybe doing a second series.
CA: How would you differentiate yourself from other cruise lines?
RT: When we created the brand it wasn’t about thinking outside the box, it was about thinking outside the ship. Every cruise we do, with the odd exception, includes an AzAmazing Evening. These are once in a lifetime experiences that money can’t buy and are free for everyone on the ship. They include everything from evenings at the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool to nights in Sydney Harbour next year. They are incredible events. We also have payable excursions called Insider Access, which is people connecting to people, for instance, in Amsterdam you can go to Rembrandt’s house and meet the people who live there now. You can also use the printing press, which is the same one Rembrandt himself used to use, to print postcards to send home to your family. There is also Nights and Cool Places, which is about recognising that 50 per cent of the ports we stay in are either overnight or until late at night. So they reopen the Picasso museum just for us. Our most recent programme is Cruise Global Eat Local, which is a list of Azamara-certified restaurants. We’ve gone out, checked that the kitchens are safe and now personally recommend these restaurants to people who want to go out and eat locally. There’s no charge to that.
When we created the brand it wasn’t about thinking outside the box, it was about thinking outside the ship
CA: What’s the biggest obstacle you face when pitching new to cruise customers?
RT: Probably perception and the only way to break down those perceptions is for people to see it. I get nervous when you see signs saying ‘myth-busting about cruise’ because all you are saying is ‘problems about cruise’. People do have perceptions, which is why in the future Azamara will be bringing out more taster cruises than we’ve ever done before. We have three this autumn and we’ll be doing them again in 2016 and 2017. We are a relatively big purchase but an inside cabin on our three night cruise is £329 right now – that includes all your drink, all your food, and takes in Ibiza and Corsica, which isn’t bad. Those trips are a great way to break down perceptions.
CA: How do you engage with the trade?
RT: More than 90 per cent of my business is from travel agents. Before we had a fantastic lady called Sonia Limbrick, who was the face of the brand, and now we have four people who are on the road every day talking to travel agents. We have the Cruising for Excellence training programme, we are also on the Clia e-learning website. The big step forward for us was virtual reality, which has been launched in the US already and will be with us in the second half of the year. It means we can put travel agents virtually on our ships. We are the first cruise line in the world to do that. We have also joined Club Royal too. So for every booking a travel agent makes with Azamara, we will upload cash on to their Club Royal card. We have massively increased our digital presence and are now the fifth ranking cruise line, behind some very big players.
CA: What do you put your digital success down to?
RT: Two things: one is that we have a dedicated person called Raul Parquet who lives and breathes our social media channels. It’s also about knowing your customer. Our customer tends to be a bit of voyeur on social media, they want to watch and understand but don’t necessarily want to participate. Our digital interaction with trade partners has also come on leaps and bounds too.
CA: How do you envisage going forward?
RT: Last year was our best yet as a brand, both in the UK and globally. This year will be even better. Having a dedicated team in the UK has certainly raised awareness and our PR company has also done a fantastic job of raising our presence with the trade. We also spent a lot of money story-telling with consumers at the Telegraph and Daily Mail Cruise shows. We invested a lot of money building a fantastic exhibition stand which allowed us to meet those luxury travellers. On those weekends we were booking cruises to Australia, the Panama Canal and Costa Rica. There were people who had been to the Boat Show and bought a Sunseeker and then came over to us and booked a cruise. One couple spent £35,000 on two cruises.
CA: Can you tell us any more about the recently announced drydock?
RT: They have been planned for a long time. Excitingly, the corporation said that because we were doing so well, they wanted to do a more extensive drydock than first planned. The first one is on Journey, which will happen in the Caribbean in January and the second one will be on the Quest in Singapore in April. There won’t be one part of the ship left untouched. They will look fantastic. I think it’s a bit like a Four Seasons, and in my opinion it’s the first part of our growth story. We’ve only been going for four years, and only actually made profit last year, which is a much more compelling argument for investment.