The recent news that Azamara Club Cruises is adding a third ship to its fleet in March 2018 set industry tongue’s wagging. Royal Caribbean’s luxury line, which has had two ships since it launched, has become one of the sector’s leading experiential cruise lines. A strong agent programme – backed by Royal Caribbean’s Club Royal – has ensured that a majority of bookings are generated by the trade.
There’s an interesting bit of history here too. The new ship, currently P&O’s Adonia, was previously known as the R Eight, the last ship that Renaissance Cruises launched before it went bust in 2001. Azamara’s current ships – Journey and Quest – were the R Six and R Seven, so agents will know what to expect of Azamara Pursuit once it has gone through its planned renovation.
We spoke with Richard Twynam, managing director of Azamara Club Cruises, to talk about the plans for a third ship.
Cruise Adviser: Bringing another former Renaissance ship into your fleet seems like a brilliant move – tried and tested hardware etc – how did the deal come about?
Richard Twynam: This is the question we’re being asked by everyone but we can’t say! However, an important angle is that Azamara now has the three youngest R-class ships: six, seven and eight. R Eight, which will be Azamara Pursuit, is the youngest of all of them. There’s a number of cruise lines who have Renaissance tonnage (Oceania, Princess) but we’ve got the youngest. While I can’t talk about how the deal came about, I can tell you that the reason it came about is because the level of demand to sail on the reimagined ships is so high – and we’ll be reimagining Pursuit to look as beautiful as the other two do.
The one question I’ve been asked more than any other in the four years I’ve been doing this job is: when are you getting a new ship?
What will the new ship mean for Azamara?
Commercially it will be a 50% increase in capacity. What that means financially for the business is scale. It also means we will have to hire a new team for the ship but we don’t necessarily have to hire a bunch of new people for the land because they’re already in place. It will make us a bit more cost-effective. It allows us to go to new destinations as well as destinations that we’ve not been to in a while.
The one question I’ve been asked more than any other in the four years I’ve been doing this job is: when are you getting a new ship? We’ve now got that new ship and it says that what we’re doing as a brand, our brand concept, how the business is performing and, most importantly, what we mean to Royal Caribbean corporation, has been validated. For them to spend serious money on the upgrading of Journey and Quest and to buy a new ship – and upgrade that too – shows you how well the business is doing. Royal Caribbean are committed to specialist cruising, boutique hotels in the ocean. Our repeat booking rates back that up as well.
We’ve had a huge amount of success and that success is down to travel agents
From a personal perspective, it’s a really proud day too. Most of our team have been with us since day one. We’re a highly profitable business unit within Royal Caribbean. When you’ve got the numbers behind you it makes it easy. It was the right deal at the right time.
Will the new ship be part of a new class/aimed at a different market? How is it going to work? What differences will there be on board?
It’s going to be an extension of where we are today. It will go to the ports that the big ships can’t go to, more overnight and late nights in port, more Azamazing evenings. There might be some different twists that we put on board the ship but we’ll give you a bit more information about that as we get closer to launch.
What are you hoping the new ship will bring to the luxury market?
What I hope it means is a fourth ship, just because I’m greedy. This is the first step in our growth and I don’t think you’ll see us stop here. The good news for travel agents is that this gives them more of an opportunity to earn more commission by selling this product. We are a top-end product and we pay a top-level of commission to reflect that. And let’s be clear: we would not have grown without the support of UK travel agents. We’ve had a huge amount of success and that success is down to travel agents. For luxury cruising, it’s validation of the sector.
What I hope it means is a fourth ship, just because I’m greedy.
What is the key messaging for agents? What should they be telling their customers?
There’s a fundamental difference between a newbuild and an acquisition. With a newbuild you have everything lined up. You know what the dates are and you can drip feed information about onboard dining, features and itineraries as you get closer to launch. With an acquisition, you want to get it on sale as quickly as possible because the first sailing is in quarter three next year.