Having just launched Seabourn Encore to great fanfare, Carnival’s ultra-luxury brand is going from strength to strength. With a return to Alaska on the horizon, a fifth ship to launch and a Mediterranean season coming up fast, we caught up with Lynn Narraway, the company’s UK managing director, and Chris Austin, the recently appointed senior vice president of sales and marketing, to discuss his move from luxury hotels and how travel agents who put in the time can reap the rewards.
Cruise Adviser: How different is the luxury hotel sector compared to the luxury cruise sector?
Chris Austin: It’s the same business, in the same industry. Cruise just delivers a far better experience than land-based resorts. Seabourn ships are essentially just ultra-luxury hotels that traverse the oceans. We go to multiple destinations, while hotels are static. Seabourn Encore, our latest ship, was designed by Adam Tihany, who is one of the most renowned hotel designers in the world.
What does Encore add to the Seabourn proposition?
CA: We have the newest ultra-luxury fleet at sea. Encore keeps that focus and Ovation, which launches next year, solidifies that even further. Encore is slightly larger than our other ships, but that’s at the request of our guests. We have one additional deck, but it’s a very similar footprint. It still looks like the three other ships. Adam took to the brief, which is evolution not revolution.
Lynn Narraway: We didn’t want inconsistencies within the fleet. There’s the extra space, which includes The Colonnade. There’s the Grill by Thomas Keller, which is a beautiful space, a sushi restaurant and the extra suites. Apart from that, you know you’re on a Seabourn ship.
CA: With more ships we can offer guests and travel partners more iconic destinations. Some of our competitors are challenged about being in certain parts of the world at certain times of the year. With four ultra-luxury ships, five next year, we’ve got great coverage right around the world.
Given the recent additions to global ultra-luxury fleets, is it more important than ever to publicise those differentiators?
CA: Definitely. If we do, then our partners will find it easier to sell Seabourn. The best booking for us is matching the right person to the right brand. We want to help our trade partners do exactly that and in turn earn incredible loyalty.
LN: We’re far more interested in differentiating ourselves from ultra-luxury hotels and resorts, not ultra-luxury cruise lines. That would be a big bit of advice for travel partners.
How do travel agents turn people on to ultra-luxury cruising?
CA: The important thing is to ask the right questions. It’s about knowing what your luxury client wants from their holiday and aligning that with what Seabourn’s proposition is. Then you can tell them about all of the extras that they get on top of that.
LN: A travel professional has to have the confidence to present the opportunity to affluent, land-based holidaymakers who have never tried a cruise before. We have to make sure that we’re telling our story appropriately and in a way that elicits an emotive response from the travel partner.
What would your advice be for those who are yet to start selling Seabourn?
LN: Our Seabourn Academy has everything they will need, including modules on how to get into luxury travel and the skills needed to sell to groups. That’s certainly one way to start in the industry.
CA: Travel partners need to be lifestyle planners for their clients. They need to know when that 50th wedding anniversary is, or that special birthday. Don’t think that just because people don’t take an ultra-luxury holiday every year that they won’t take one for a special occasion.
LN: We call our partners ‘travel professionals’ or ‘travel advisers’ because they offer so much. They have to have a massive amount of knowledge about our brand. That’s what the luxury traveller expects of their travel adviser. They need to know if they are working wealthy or retired wealthy. As soon as our 2018/19 programme comes out they need to be on the phone and telling them about new itineraries that they’re desperate to try.
CA: Take advantage of our sales and marketing support. These people are an extension of our brand and we want to make sure we have the right tools to help them succeed.
Why are you going back to Alaska for the first time in 15 years?
CA: We feel that there is a tremendous opportunity for a small, ultra-luxury ship in Alaska with the itineraries that we have very carefully curated. We will have access to certain fjords along the route that none of the big ships can get into and, on top of that, we will have our Ventures programme.
How will you be able to compete with some of your sister brands, such as Holland America who are celebrating 70 years in Alaska?
LN: It’s about enhancing the experience. So, we’ll be going to the Denali, but we’ll go via helicopter or private jet. The experience is going to be totally different. With our sister brands we have Park Rangers coming on and giving talks. With Seabourn, guests will be able to board a kayak from the marina deck.
How is Encore’s Mediterranean season selling?
LN: It’s selling quickly. It’s gone down very well with our British guests, some of whom are among our most loyal. One passenger has more than 3,000 sea days, which is 8.21 years. Another British lady has done 2,000 sea days. They have that loyalty because we know them so well; coming on board is a welcome home.