Friday, July 17, 2009

Seabourn and Silversea Cruise Lines - Are They Really Competitors?

At first blush this may seem like worse than a naive question, but one that is just silly. I mean, how could the two largest true luxury cruise lines not be direct competitors?

Yesterday I learned some very interesting statistics. Silversea claims that it actually has more former Princess passengers on it ships than Seabourn guests. More Holland America passengers. More Cunard (actually the highest percentage). More Crystal. In fact, when providing the statistics Seabourn wasn't even mentioned; and clearly isn't in its top four sources of prior cruisers.

When first faced with this surprise I was, frankly, shocked. Of course Seabourn had to been in the mix, didn't it? But then I started thinking...as I do.

Silversea provides a very upscale product; no question about it. It has gone through, and probably will continue to go through changes, while it struggles with its present situation. However, Silversea has stressed that it is not cutting back, but rather adding value through essentially keeping the product the same and lowering prices. (I do not acknowledge that to be true - I don't have personal knowledge - but that is the company line.)

Seabourn also provides a very upscale product, but what I experience and what I hear consistently - even with the launch of the Seabourn Odyssey - is that it is the staff that makes Seabourn Seabourn. (How many expressed concerns abouth whether Seabourn could deliver the same quality service on its larger ship? I have not heard a single person say Seabourn hasn't succeeded.)

Aside from opinions about cuisine and service levels (or, better, style differences) the ships are markedly different. The Seabourn triplets with only 208 guests are yachtie and the 450 passenger Seabourn Odyssey provides the same yacht-like service. Silversea, however, provides a large platform for all its ships (which are medium to medium-large). Is that why Silversea mentions passenger to space ratios rather than differences in service? Probably.

So with the similarity, and knowing that many cruise these lines to be on the ships first of all and itinerary second, why isn't there more cross-over? My experience tells me that I have a much more prevalent move to Seabourn from Regent and Celebrity (and a bit from Oceania). I have had Seabourners try Holland America or Cunard...once. But not so much the other way round. I do have some serious Crystal clients that happily swing between it and Seabourn.

One interesting observation: Seabourn's ships are sailing pretty full this summer. In fact, Seabourn is running into situations where it is oversold. Silversea, on the other hand, ha thrown everything it has (butlers, $1,000 onboard credits, deep discounts, etc.) to attract more guests...and its ships still have significant space available.

With such great deals (and they are) why aren't more Seabourn guests giving Silversea a try? I believe that at this level the guests know what they want and it is not necessarily about getting the best deal...when measured solely by the dollar/pound/euro.

Backtracking to the move-up clients, it would appear that it is a bit more in what the style of service is provided (or, in some instances, marketed) in the mass market/premium market that a particular person latches onto and becomes comfortable with. Every line tries to pitch some sort of service difference and, it would seem, that comfort with the "hint" given on Princess may build a natural acceptance to Silversea's marketing, while the "hint" on Celebrity favors Seabourn.

Regent is a whole 'nuther kettle of fish which I will address another day. Suffice it to say, as I recently discussed with a client, Regent seems to be more of a premium line with great suites; rather than a luxury line with great service and cuisine. It is when those that have been trained that what is truly faux luxury discover what luxury cruising is truly about, the change to Seabourn or Silversea happens. My experience is that there is no real trend toward one or the other. In that respect, I guess, Seabourn and Silversea do directly compete.

I guess, then, it is not so ironic as a top seller of Seabourn cruises I also tend to sell more Celebrity and Oceania than I do Silversea, Princess or Cunard. Mind you I sell them all, and am very familiar with each, but I cannot ignore the trend.

Funny thing, "This is My Yacht" and "Starring You" do have some symmetry.