Thursday, March 5, 2009

What Does the Future Hold For Regent Seven Seas Cruises?

For the past few days we have had some pretty interesting and honest discussion about the trials and tribulations at Regent Seven Seas Cruises.

I am sure as you have read them you probably feel I am very negative about Regent. Well, guess what: You Are Wrong!

Going back to 2003 or 4 (I don't quite remember) I had one of my best cruises ever. It was on the Radisson Diamond. The Diamond provided a true luxury experience on a quirky ship (that most of us loved). The service was excellent. The dining room was beautiful with Miki doing a great job and with Giuseppe as the Hotel Manager with charm and women fawning over him.

In 2007 I had another great cruise; on the Regent Paul Gauguin. It was not a luxury cruise, but it did not pretend to be. The service ranged from excellent to OK and the food was acceptable, but as I said at the time, the sum was far greater than its parts.

To round things out, my experience on the Mariner was marginal, as the cost-saving transition from European to Filipino staff had just been made and the assistant stewardesses had also been eliminated. Forget service, just being understood and not running out of toilet paper were challenges. My Navigator cruise is better left alone.

What does this reflect: As I have said before, it isn't the hardware the makes a cruise line great; it is the people. The Mariner and Navigator have far superior suites, but they provided the lesser of the cruise experiences. What else was in common: The Management! The Diamond has some of the same, but the change to Regent wasn't there and the Paul Gauguin is pretty much independent.

Looking forward, Regent has two very good ships (Voyager and Mariner) and one dog (Navigator). Leaving the Navigator (and I have bet a case of beer on the fact I do not believe Navigator will be around long enough to have the 2010 refit completed), Prestige Cruise Holdings/Apollo has already done much to address the public area soft goods neglect on the two ships, with revitalized public spaces and Prime 7 replacing the curious Latitudes.

Now, if Regent concentrates on service and amenities rather than Six Star hype and of marginal value "free" tours and "free" air, a turnaround is actually not that difficult for there is a more than decent physical plant. What does it need to do:

1. Stop the hype. Now is the time to honest with the cruising public and earn a legitimate reputation rather than a marketed one.

2. Seriously train the crew. You may notice that I have never, ever, directly criticized the crew. I have blasted everyone from Mark Conroy down to the head waiters, but never the crew. If the management is so entrenched in doing it "their way", get rid of them. If management cannot learn and buy into doing it a new way of doing things, drop 'em. If the management has too far alienated the crew: Bon Voyage.

Why? Because the crew must "believe". With failed management that can never happen. The crew must believe there is a better way. They must believe it matters. They must believe in their future with Regent.

Taken task by task training it is not that complex. But when there is chaos around the crew, that is pretty much all they see and improvements are almost impossible. However, once the crew believes, training them how to properly serve a table is pretty easy. Really fixing that electrical problem rather than patching it "again" will matter. Then they will discover better ways and will want to improve without anyone saying a word. That is called Pride in one's work.

3. Vastly improve the cuisine. Regent has not been spending much on feeding its guests. That is starting to change (ala Prime 7). And it is not about throwing money at food, but as Oceania does, it is about using good quality ingredients to make simply elegant dishes. (Once that is in place, then Regent can get fancy if it wishes.) This kind of cuisine does not baffle the seriously in need of training galley crew or back up a galley when there is a rush in the main dining room....which in turn gets the waiters flustered...which in turn slows the service and leaves guests waiting for wine or just a table. And, by the way, serve coffee that one can enjoy.

4. Improve amenities. There is no excuse for cheap soaps, shampoos and lotions. Personal care is, well, very personal. People enjoy the luxury of great soaps and shampoo that makes your hair feel and smell good. And how many women enjoy taking home a couple of extra bottles of lotion? (Heck it is inexpensive advertising. Every time she looks at the bottle, no less uses it, it reminds her of that wonderful cruise.)

Let's just stop there. Changing amenities is simple and inexpensive. Stopping the hype actually saves money and is easy to do. That leaves two things: train the crew and improve the food. This is not hard stuff.

With good management in place, Regent can do it relatively quickly. So don't look at all the management that is leaving as a bad thing. It may just be a harbinger of good things to come.

Frankly all I want is Radisson back. Hey, maybe that's it: CHANGE THE NAME. Prestige Cruise Holdings, if you are listening (and I know you are!): How about a "do over"? Bring that which Radisson was back to Regent...and change the name so that the tarnished image is gone.

In other words, don't write the cruise line off just yet....maybe just the management and the name.