Monday, December 1, 2008

Silversea - A Call from the Captain!

Late today I received a call from Marilyn Conroy, Silversea's senior vice president of sales and marketing concerning my most recent post.

We had a wonderful chat about Silversea, her perspective on a number of my comments, concerns and theories. And, of course, I listened carefully to both the information she had to share as well as her perspectives.

With Ms. Conroy's permission I want to share the following comments:

First, I am assured Silversea is financially sound. According to Ms. Conroy Silversea has invested $500,000,000 in the purchase and refit of the Prince Albert II, the refurbishment of the Silver Wind and Silver Cloud and, of course, the new Silver Spirit. While I do not equate spending money with having money (Wall Street are you listening?) Ms. Conroy's assurances as to the owner's financial strength cannot be ignored; taken with a grain of salt, possibly, but they most certainly are worthy of note.

Second, news on the Spirit has admittedly been slow in coming and brochures have been delayed because, in part, the desire to have the itineraries perfectly set. However, I am advised that the Spirit is still scheduled to be delivered in December 2009 and, in fact, there may even be a Christmas Cruise offered somewhere in Europe. I am told information will be forthcoming around the first of the year, so we will all have to stay tuned.

Third, I am told the concept behind the desired passenger mix is as a result of Silversea's vision of creating the ambiance of a grand European hotel. Along those lines, the passenger mix is approximately 55% North American and, of those guests, approximately 51% are first time guests from North America. This is actually pretty similar to the information I previously provided here. I can't say if it is a pure marketing scheme or one created out of the reality of where bookings are of recent history coming from (i.e. with the then weaker dollar), but it is what it is.

Fourth, passenger loads/occupancy is not what Silversea (or frankly any cruise line) wants it to be but Ms. Conroy claims Silversea is running at about 80% or so of capacity...which is actually an increase from a few years ago.

Now for the other, not as positive, information - but provided with all due candor...and that is, to be sure, priceless:

Fifth, the Prince Albert II in French Polynesia was not a good idea. It is an exploration ship and, thus is without a pool...not a good thing for many in French Polynesia. (Though, frankly, I don't think I ever went into Regent's Paul Gauguin's pool after spending my days in the sea.) It just didn't sell. So the ship is literally being laid up and will be doing Antarctic and Artic voyages. That is why there is a hole in the schedule. My question was answered, but laying up a cruise ship (no matter the size) is not one's favorite choice as it just costs money with absolutely no return.

Sixth, according to Ms. Conroy the change from European to Filipino staff was done, in part, because some of the European staff were not as friendly as they might have been. However, the training of the Filipino staff was not instantaneous and there was a significant learning curve. Personally, I am not buying this one. While there are definite cultural differences between Filipinos and Europeans (and many cultural differences between Europeans!) this all comes down to training, training and training (as well has happy staff). I have had wonderful Filipino staff on Celebrity and outstanding European staff on Seabourn. It can be done regardless of culture...even though the styles may be different as a result of those cultures. I also remain convinced that the change was, in the other part, a cost savings measure.

Finally, the 25% commission offering combined with 50% off savings. As I tried to explain in my original post, 50% off savings are not really 50% off of a real price. Ms. Conroy also correctly points out that Silversea does have 50% off savings for its past passengers from time to time and extending it to first time guests is not the most desirable thing, but in this economic climate all cruise lines are sweetening the pot (my words) so different schemes are tried.

Further, while the 25% commission rate is very high (and, again, I hesitate to provide the "normal" rates) the design was asserted to be a motivator. Again, I am not sure I am buying that one. I sell the cruises my clients desire. To claim I would sell them a less desirable cruise because I would be making more money is not exactly a compliment. To be sure not every travel agent is as passionate about the business in the long run as I am, but whether it be the exploiting of greed or providing a way for agents to provide additional savings to their clients, the 25% commission thing still bothers me and indicates something isn't right. (We can agree to disagree on this point.)

So what does this all mean? It means that communication is a wonderful thing. Expressing different perspectives on the same facts is a fantastic way to allow each reader to decide for themselves where things are...and if they are relevant to them or of just passing interest.

I am pleased that the Cruise Lines read my blog. I am more pleased that they speak with me and provide me with information. That is, in the end, a great benefit to you. You get the real information, discussion and perspectives.