Monday, May 10, 2010

Seabourn's Marketing Misses: Let Me Tell You Why To Cruise With The Yachts of Seabourn.

As I prepare for my attendance at the Seabourn Sojourn's Inaugural and Maiden Voyage (which I will discuss in detail and will be blogging from), I am frustrated by Seabourn's silence...and, honestly, Seabourn's overall marketing efforts.

Over the past months, and over my complaints, Seabourn has focused on discount pricing as the way to drive business to its ships.  That has caused a few things negative to happen: 

1.  The cache of Seabourn has, to my mind, been diminished.  Seabourn is a special cruise product.  It is not about getting from Point A to Point B, nor is it about getting the cheapest price.  The highly discounted fare business has actually perverted some of Seabourn's loyal guests to think of "lowest price" rather than Seabourn's hallmark:  Service; that is until they get onboard.  [You would be amazed how many of my former/future clients come back to me after they couldn't pass up the "lowest price"...and then suffered the service lapses of the true discount travel agency.]

2.  What separates Seabourn from other cruise lines has been lost.  It is amazing to me that after all these years I need to explain to people that spending $X on Holland America or Oceania vs. $X on Seabourn is a comparison that cannot be made...because there just isn't any comparison.  Whether it is the quality of the accommodations or the cuisine or the service or the classier and more open public spaces, less people, free flowing champagne and caviar, etc., I am well and truly frustrated that the conversation needs to be had.

But I am not frustrated by my clients, but rather Seabourn.  Seabourn marketing is so poor and so out of touch that Seabourn's message is all but lost.  And I remained baffled by how Seabourn pumps out all of the brochures and mailers...which it sends to its past guests...like that is going to make them take a cruise. 

Seriously, Seabourn has gone from a small line to a midsized line, from constantly full ships to triple its capacity almost overnight...but its marketing has not changed...except for volume and discounted pricing.

So for all of you who have heard of Seabourn, but really don't know what Seabourn is about...and cannot tell from Seabourn's marketing materials, let me explain it a bit...and I will do it comparing it to some other quality lines.

Service - I do not care what cruise line you prefer, one thing you will never hear is that its service is "better than Seabourn".  You may hear "as good as Seabourn", but never better.  Let's take a look at that for a moment.  Regent Seven Seas Cruises has a following that says, "Be sure to ask for Z as your waiter.  He is great."  On Seabourn that concept does not exist.  Service is consistent in the dining room.  I do not know of a single person that must dine with Waiter X.  But service is far more than dinner service. 

Seabourn has intuitive service.  What does that mean?  In September I was on the Seabourn Spirit and was talking with some friends at breakfast, mentioning I would meet them at the forward whirlpool at 3:30 pm.  At 3:30 pm a Seabourn bar waiter arrived with a bottle of champagne and four glasses stating, "Mr. Goldring, I am glad you were able to make it on time."  Think I made that up, how about the chief editor of Cruise Critic's story in her review of the Seabourn Legend:

Standing at the deserted stern, away from the hullabaloo of the pool deck on our first sea day, watching Montserrat pass by, I started to think that "it would be nice to sit here all afternoon in a lounge chair," when Ian, one of the most attentive of an already attentive crew, called out to me: "May I set you up here?" Within minutes I had a fancy tropical drink , a lounge chair pulled up to the railing, and even a little table on which to rest my book. He would have brought me lunch from the Sky Grill, too, but I declined.

So as you fight for a lounge chair by the pool on another cruise line, or struggle to muster excitement to enter the buffet for lunch, imagine sitting poolside on Seabourn with a lovely glass of Chardonnay...and knowing something good is going to happen.

Or, possibly return from a long day and have your bath drawn for you or have a one of the staff perfectly prepare a cigar for you...or possibly even go Shopping with the Chef.  (I mean, you could have your group tour's included in an inflated price or tender tickets with an hour wait to get off the ship, but alas that is the Seabourn service difference.)

Cuisine - Seabourn really doesn't tell you much about its cuisine other than that Charley Palmer has designed its menus. I am not sure why.  Oceania really markets its butter, its flour and now its Wine Spectator affiliation.  But the fact is that the cuisine on Seabourn - as many Seabourn guests who have cruised with Oceania have confirmed - is far superior.  Butter and flour are wonderful things, but you must have a totality of quality ingredients, great recipes and, here is that personal thing again, the staff and chefs to put them together not only to taste excellent but to look appetizing.  And the, of course, waitstaff able to serve the cuisine with sufficient flair that it becomes part of an experience, rather than just a time to eat.

A typical Chef's Menu on a seven day Seabourn cruise may be as one I recently enjoyed:

Cream of Foie Gras with fresh mango, aged Balsamic and brioche
Celery Cream Soup with vanilla foam
Sautéed Quail Breast with pumpkin puree, maple syrup, port wine reduction
Passion Fruit Shot sorbet
Pan Fried Fresh Local Sea Bass Fillet with roasted blue potatoes, Mediterranean vegetables, noilly prat sauce
Tournedo Rossini - fillet of beef, seared foie gras, glazed vegetables, truffle sauce
Sweet Pastry Impressions
Grand Marnier Flavored Truffles

Would you like lamb chops with your eggs in the morning?  How about smoked salmon?  A cup of true espresso?

How about an elegant cheese plate with gourmet cheeses?

A wine steward that actually knows about wines...and has the confidence to say, "Let me get the sommelier for you.  He can better assist?"

Sophisticated, but Not Stuffy, Social Experience   -  Some people love big shows and loud music, but others prefer conversation or a Quiet after dinner drink under the stars.  Some prefer pool games while other prefer an afternoon of reading a book or "supervising" a sail away from a hidden whirlpool.  If you prefer the latter concepts, Seabourn is for you. But do not think it is all about being quiet and stuffy.  There are many fun activities...just not with cannonball dives into the pool, giant screens with music videos and huge production shows.

Everyone is Treated as Equals - One of my favorite aspects of Seabourn is that everyone is an equal.  No different colored room cards to show who is in a suite (everyone is).  No preferential treatment for the top suites (other than possibly a dinner reservation in Restaurant 2).  No tender priority.  No check-in priority.  No special disembarkation lounge.  Everyone gets everything.

Ports - While there are some cruise lines that are visiting more unique ports (such as Oceania), most hit the main ports and thousands of people disembark from your and other cruise ships rendering the experience a bit less satisfying than you may have imagined.  On Seabourn you visit more smaller ports, stay later or overnight, visit when other ships aren't present or simply dock in town rather than out in a commercial dock.  (St. Petersburg is one great example:  Walk off the ship and you are there versus taking a bus for an hour.)

Think of this:  If I was hyping Seabourn, how many of you would come back disappointed and complain to me?  I am, however, simply and confidently telling you the truth!  I am not concerned.  You shouldn't be either.

So if you want to look at prices, go right ahead.  (BTW, I have some special prices on close in cruises that are not available everywhere and are too low to publish, so call me if you are interested!) 

But remember, Seabourn's marketing may not be the best, but it has a truly fantastic product that will WOW you in ways that you probably won't expect.