Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Yachts of Seabourn - The Captains...New and "Old"

I received a press release today from Seabourn that gives everyone a great introduction to the ever expanding list of some of the best captains in the luxury cruise industry.  Enjoy and use it as a resource:

"As The Yachts of Seabourn continues to expand its fleet of intimate, all-suite vessels, the company is also privileged to add to the roster of its most responsible, and most highly visible officers on board. The ultra luxury line has managed to attract some of the cruise industry’s most respected and popular captains, and built itself a sort of seagoing dream team to oversee its award-winning fleet.

The latest to join Seabourn is Captain Dag Dvergastein, a well-known Norwegian seaman most recently with Regent Seven Seas Cruises. Englishman Captain Ian McNaught, a longtime favorite of many guests aboard the Cunard liners, joined Seabourn this year. Also joining the roster in 2010 were Captain David Bathgate, a Scot who now lives in the South of England and has sailed on virtually every sort of ocean-going vessel, and Captain Sean Whalley, another Englishman whose 25-year career includes commands in the Falkland Islands Fisheries Patrol.

“With the addition of Seabourn Odyssey, Sojourn and Quest, we have created new opportunities for the right sort of senior officers,” noted Pamela C. Conover, Seabourn’s president and CEO. “With a complement of just 200 to 450 guests, our six intimate yachts offer an unusual degree of accessibility that really appeals to captains who like to socialize with guests and share their adventures," she added.

Two of Seabourn’s captains were added to its rotation in 2009. Danish Captain Bjarne Larsen had extensive experience sailing ice-rated exploration vessels in the Arctic and Antarctic. Andrew Pedder, from Yorkshire in England, had sailed aboard Cunard liners, then served as a maritime river pilot, joined Holland America Line and later the sailing vessels of Windstar Cruises.

Captain Magnus Bengtsson was born on Sweden’s Gotland island, and had previously commanded passenger vessels in the Far East before joining Seabourn in 2008. That same year saw the welcome return of one of Seabourn’s very first captains, Norwegian Erik Lund Anderssen, who sailed as First Officer and then commanded Seabourn Pride during its, and the company’s, maiden year.

Captain Mark Dexter, another Englishman who now lives in New Zealand, joined in 2007 and had the pleasure of taking Seabourn Odyssey into his hometown of Christchurch during its maiden World Cruise in 2009. Captain Hamish Elliott, who also joined in 2007, lives in England’s County Durham and had worked on all manner of passenger vessels from the smallest, Sea Goddess, to what was at the time the world’s largest, Queen Mary 2 before taking command of Seabourn Pride.

Captain Gier-Arne Thue-Nilsen, from Norway, was the first in his family to go to sea, and started out on North Sea oil rigs before taking up the sailor’s life. He is an avid cyclist and photographer who maintains a website gallery of his travels on Seabourn since 2002 at http://www.captain-ga.com/ .

Captain Karlo Buer, also from Norway, first joined Seabourn in 1989 to supervise the building of Seabourn Spirit. Since then, even with intermittent stints in shoreside positions, he has commanded every Seabourn yacht, including Seabourn Odyssey and Seabourn Sojourn during their respective maiden Voyages."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Atle Brynestad-Related Companies File for Bankruptcy - SeaDream Yacht Club Supposedly Unaffected and Doing Well

Last year was rather tumultuous for SeaDream Yacht Club. 

The financial problems of the person controlling its interest, Atle Brynestad, resulted in Larry Pimental (now heading up Azamara Club Cruises - formerly a part of Celebrity Cruises, but now operated as a separate brand under the Royal Caribbean flag) departing purportedly as a result of Brynestad sucking SeaDream's revenue stream to fund his other failing business.  This added to the economic downturn...and the souring of the charter market (who wanted to be seen chartering a cruise ship...even if it was a small one)...and SeaDream was under huge stresses.

With SeaDream being run at a profit - or at least not as a huge cash drain - and the marketing disaster of being owned by a corporation (CG Holdings) which was teetering on bankruptcy, SeaDream was transferred to another company, Three Norske Group (obviously still controlled by Brynestad). 

That, it would seem, was a very good idea for yesterday CG Holdings and two other Brynestad-related companies filed for bankruptcy.

But, and I am putting my lawyer hat on here, that is not necessarily the case.  We actually have very little idea as to the actual structure and, to be sure, if any of the CG Holdings creditors are going to be looking hard at SeaDream Yacht Club as an asset which was transferred in anticipation of a bankruptcy or to otherwise insulate an asset from the legitimate claims of CG Holdings creditors.  (If I were a betting man I would think the creditors have already drafted those claims.)

That said, Bob Lepisto, SeaDream Yacht Club's president has been quoted as saying the bankruptcy of Brynestad's three other companies, "in no way affect SeaDream Yacht Club or other companies that are part of the Three Norske Group".  He has also been quoted as saying that SeaDream is doing "very, very well" in 2010.  According to Travel Pulse, a trade publication, Bob Lepisto also stated, "Some of our business is based on full-yacht charters, so our current outlook is that 2011 will be even better than 2009 or 2010. And clearly, 2009 and 2010 were good, profitable years for us.”

In Australia, an unidentified spokesman claims that SeaDream's bookings for the next 12 months are better than last year's and that the Australian office has just finalized its fourth full ship charter and has recently signed a 25 cabin partial ship charter, claiming almost 10% of SeaDream's overall business.

So there seems to be some very good news in relation to SeaDream Yacht Club, but I would not be popping the cork just yet.  It sounds like a valuable asset to me...and I am not one of those creditors.

What does that mean for you, the cruising public?  I am not sure it means much more than it is interesting.  No creditor is going to want to screw up a good thing and, to be sure, SeaDream is a good thing (if you like that type of product). 

Assuming you are not the subject of a partial charter, or large family gathering, SeaDream provides an excellent small ship, casual experience, based on high quality cuisine and service in generally less traveled ports of call (many not actually being ports, but anchorages!).  If you want the downside to SeaDream (assuming you make sure your cruise is not overwhelmed by others on these 112 guest yachts): smaller cabins and no balconies. 

However, as this is an "on deck, in the water and on shore" type of cruising experience, SeaDream has a very loyal following and for good reason.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Seabourn Sojourn World Cruise - Everything You Need to Know, Plus Exceptional Pricing and Service!

While I am thrilled that even in this economy my business continues to grow, I am not satisfied.  (Am I ever really totally satisfied?)  So I have decided to aggressively seek out those who are thinking about an extended Seabourn cruise, but are just a bit hesitant to make the commitment because "maybe if I wait the price will get better".

Well, as people are finding out (quite a few to their disappointment) waiting is not a good thing.  Why?  Because even though I will always adjust your fare lower if you or I find out there is a price reduction before your final payment without any cost or fee to you, some people insist on waiting...and then are finding either their cruise is sold out or they have to purchase a more expensive suite than they really wanted, so it cost them more in the long run.

So with the Seabourn Sojourn World Cruise getting underway in January 2011, I wanted to find a way to encourage those who might be of the same mind and encourage them to book now.  

I am, therefore, offering you a discount of more than 5% (possibly more than 10%) on a Full World Cruise or any World Cruise Segment.  The amount of my direct discount to you is based upon the length of your cruise and the category you book, so you may find that booking in a higher category costs you the same as booking in a lower one.  

But simply because I will provide you with a significant discount doesn't mean that I will shortcut on my service or the "little extras" (and not so little extras).  You will receive complimentary Ensemble Experiences (detailed below) and complimentary travel guides on some of the places you will be visiting.  Of course, these savings are over and above the Seabourn onboard credits of up to $3,500 per person!

Don't believe it can be "that good"?  Read what one of my clients on the Seabourn Odyssey Full World Cruise wrote:

"We can't let another day go by without offering sincere thanks for all you did to make our Seabourn [Full World] cruise such an incredible adventure for us. From guiding us through the reservation process, to your always prompt responses to our questions, organizing the delivery of my birthday flowers, staying in touch with us while we sailed hither and yon - you are indeed the perfect package. And please know that all the extras did not go unnoticed!! We look forward to continued talks with you as we plan our 2012 [World] cruise. P.S. The Ensemble trips were fabulous!"

Departing from Los Angeles, California on January 5, 2011 its first stop will be the Marquesas and French Polynesia followed by New Zealand and Australia...but this time Seabourn will be taking a southern and western route, after ending its first segment in Sydney. The Seabourn Sojourn's second segment calls on Melbourne and then will be visiting Adelaide and Fremantle before heading north to Indonesia, Malaysia and Hong Kong. The third segment consists of Viet Nam, Cambodia, Thailand ending in Singapore. From Singapore, the Seabourn Sojourn's fourth segment cruises to different ports in Malaysia and Thailand before heading to India and then Dubai. From Dubai the fifth segment cruises to Oman, Egypt, Jordan and Israel followed by port calls in Crete, Greece and Sorrento, Italy before arriving in Rome. The final leg is a very familiar cruise from Rome to Southampton, England with calls in Spain, Portugal and 2 1/2 days in Bordeaux, France, ending on April 27, 2011.

To assist you in seeing what Complimentary Events are going to be part of the Seabourn Sojourn World Cruise I have put together this color-coded list. 

World Cruise Events  (For guests sailing on voyages of 99 – 111 days)
Complimentary Seabourn Shore Experiences (For guests on all voyages)
Ensemble Experiences (For guests booking with Goldring Travel) [Note:  The events are still being finalized, but my clients aboard the Seabourn Odyssey World Cruise all told me the quality of the Ensemble Travel events was even better than the Seabourn events.] 

 Jan 15 PAPEETE - Tahiti South Seas Spectacular.  Enjoy an evening filled with Polynesian warriors, candlelit tropical gardens and an enchanting performance of South Pacific song and dance.
Jan 28 AKAROA, NEW ZEALAND - French Afternoon in Akaroa.  Experience the Gallic charm, wander through market stalls, sample a selection of Canterbury wines, and enjoy the circus performers, mimes, and musicians.
Feb 8 MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA - Evening of Cultural Delights.  The mansion at Werribee Park will delight your senses with impressive rooms, a delectable three-course dinner and an exclusive performance by some of Australia’s finest musicians, actors, and opera singers.
Feb 18 PADANG BAY, BALI - Dinner at Samuan Tiga Temple.  This 10th century sacred site will enchant you with the villagers clad in traditional costumes, a gamelan orchestra, dancing, cocktails, and
a customary Balinese dinner.
Feb 18 PADANG BAY, BALI  (Subject to change)
Mar 4 HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM - A Cultural Evening In Saigon. At the famous Rex Hotel enjoy the sweeping view of the city from the rooftop terrace, followed by a special performance of Vietnamese  music and dance.
Mar 4 HO CHI MINH CITY, VIETNAM (Subject to change)
Mar 12 SINGAPORE - Sky-High Reception on the Singapore Flyer.  Get a visual 360º panorama of Singapore’s iconic landmarks from the world’s largest observation wheel and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and wine
as the sun sets over Singapore.
Mar 19 COCHIN, INDIA - Kerala Cultural Experience.  Visit authentic Kerala on the unspoiled and uninhabited Gundu Island.  Taste Kerala’s coconut-influenced cuisine and enjoy mime and classical Indian dance performances.
Mar 25 DUBAI
Mar 26 DUBAI - Arabian Nights Adventure.  Experience an Arabian campsite: smell the aroma of exotic spices, have a traditional henna design applied, and enjoy a delightful dinner and lively belly-dance performance.
Apr 7 SHARM EL-SHEIKH, EGYPT - Tea In The Bedouin Desert.  Imagine yourself Lawrence of Arabia as you are greeted with a colorful, folkloric parade, enjoy tea in the Bedouin desert and watch Bedouin dancing in the mountains of the Sinai.
Apr 19 CARTAGENA, SPAIN - Cartagena Discovery.  Enjoy a scenic drive along the harbor promenade Paseo de Alfonso XII on your way to La Unión, a historic district. At Plaza del Mercado, have cocktails and tapas, plus a thrilling flamenco dance performance.
Apr 23 BORDEAUX, FRANCE - Historic Bordeaux Château Visit And Dinner.  A scenic drive to Médoc vineyards, a visit to the historical Château Kirwan, a guided tour of the vat and barrel cellars, an aperitif tasting, and, of course, a gourmet dinner with plenty of wine.

For more specifics please click on this link for a beautiful eight page brochure:

If all of the complimentary excursions and experiences are not enough to enrich you and keep your mind stimulated, Seabourn has recently announced an exceptional schedule of Guest Lecturers:

Onboard during segment voyage from Los Angeles to Sydney, Jan 5 – Feb 6:
• George Losey, Jr. – historian, marine biologist and expert in South Pacific history, culture and marine life.
• Mimi Shapiro – artist and instructor, who will teach guests how to create a unique travel journal, mixing narrative with art, photography and objects.
• David Frazier and Joe Garry – Theater veterans who have collaborated for the past 35 years. Frazier has performed more than 150 leading roles, while Garry has directed hundreds of plays and musicals.
• Thomson Smillie –author and opera historian who has worked most of his life for opera companies, including the Scottish Opera, Wexford Festival in Ireland, the Opera Company of Boston, and the Kentucky Opera in Louisville.
• Dr. Roy Willis – world historian and avid global traveler, Dr. Willis is a former history professor at the University of California, Davis, who has received numerous prestigious awards and fellowships for his scholarly works.

Onboard during segment voyage from Sydney to Hong Kong, Feb 6 – 26:
• Alan Patching – one of Australia’s internationally recognized leaders, Patching has been described as the Australian project and business leadership guru. He is best known as Chief Executive Officer of the entity that owned Sydney’s Olympic Stadium, and he is also an expert on Australia’s history.
• John Stainton – Australian film producer and director of documentaries and The Crocodile Hunter television series for his close friend, the late Australian naturalist Steve Irwin.
• Rick McKay – multiple award-winning producer, director, writer and cinematographer of the hit film Broadway: The Golden Age.
• Lawrence Blair – documentary filmmaker who co-produced the internationally-acclaimed and Emmy Award-nominated BBC/PBS television series Ring of Fire, highlighting his 10-year exploration of Indonesia.

Onboard during segment voyage from Hong Kong to Singapore, Feb 26–March 12
• Sherry Lansing – first woman to head a Hollywood film studio, 20th Century Fox; responsible for blockbuster hits such as Forrest Gump, Braveheart, Titanic, and founder of the Sherry Lansing Foundation, which supports cancer research and other philanthropic projects. Lansing was awarded an Oscar for her humanitarian work.
• Pang Eng Fong — former Singapore Ambassador to U.K., Ireland, Belgium and the European Union, South Korea, and Mongolia. Dr. Pang is an author and professor at Singapore Management University, and former professor at the National University of Singapore, Columbia University and University of Michigan.

Onboard during segment voyage from Singapore to Dubai, March 12 – 26
• Daniel Silke – an independent political analyst with a special interest in political parties and elections, and a renowned Futurist lecturing widely on globalization and the future of the world.
• Hugh Thomson – a writer and filmmaker, who has produced numerous documentaries exploring different regions around the world, including Machu Picchu, the Himalayas, India and many more.
• Bruce Riedel – a Senior Fellow in foreign policy at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy of the Brookings Institution; a former CIA analyst, counter-terrorism expert, and author.

Onboard during segment voyage from Dubai to Rome, March 26 – April 15:
• Ambassador Adrian Sindall – Former British diplomat and Ambassador to Syria and British High Commissioner to Brunei.
• Rick Senat – film historian, and founder and director of the London Film Museum.

Onboard during segment voyage from Rome to London, April 15 – April 27:
• Caroline Boyle-Turner – founder of the Pont-Aven School of Contemporary Art, historian and author on European art of the 19th and 20th centuries.
• Carol Thatcher – British journalist, author, media personality, and daughter of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
• Gael Greene – legendary American restaurant critic and co-founder and board chair of the culinary charity Citymeals-on-Wheels.

As one of the top sellers of Seabourn cruises in the World (and a multi-year member of its prestigious Pinnacle Club), I can assure you the ultimate in service not only before your cruise, but during and after it.  That is why my motto remains, "Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!"
If you have any questions or would like to book your Full World Cruise or World Cruise Segments, please call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or +1 732-383-7398 or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Bad Travel Agent Philosophies - How to Overcharge and Underdeliver.

I truly try to service every client, no matter what the vacation's cost, consistent with my motto and business plan, "Be treated by your travel agent as you will be onboard!" But I guess that sounds good if you specialize in true Luxury Travel, as I do. 

Why?  Because it is becoming increasingly disturbing to me and others that many (most?) cruise lines are looking to charge you for more and more.  Some do it overtly and others are now doing it covertly...and the latter is the sort of thing that really bothers me.  Honestly, I would rather book a cruise for someone letting them know that they will be charged $1.50 for a bottle of water than book a cruise with "free" or "included" tours or air at inflated prices or upcharging them for specialty dining (and at prices that are clearly unrelated to any increased cost in providing them dinner).

One cruise line (not one of the so-called luxury lines...fortunately) recently sent out an article written in a trade publication which literally gave instructions on how travel agents can do the same thing.  What I truly found of interest is that so many of the "suggestions" are presently embedded in UK and European travel agencies manner of doing business.

You will note that I said "manner of doing business" rather than "manner of providing service".  Philosophically there is a difference.  Most cruise lines and travel agencies look at "passengers" as a commodity.  The rare few actually view people as "guests" and "clients".  Let me explain a bit further. 

The first suggestion is to charge a "Professional Fee".  I pause...as I do...being both an attorney and a travel agent.  I do not believe that I am worthy of charging my travel clients a "professional fee".  Is my role that presumptuous that I not only should charge them 100+% of the cruise fare and declare my importance to be such that I earn the title of "professional" (as opposed, I guess, to "amateur"?).  No thank you.  My clients are treated as I want to be treated...and that is respectfully, with a desire that their first business with me be the "first" and not "only" business...and, most certainly, without the pretense that I am better or more important than they are.

The second bit of advice is to try rolling out the fees on "your least favorite clients".  I think that one speaks for itself!

The third suggestion is to charge a "Cancellation or Change Fee".  This is one that is beholden to almost every UK agency: A 10% fee to change or cancel your cruise.  I, for one, have never and will never charge for changes or cancellations.  Cruise lines may, but I refuse.  Why?  Because vacations are getaways and things happen.  My goal is to make your desires a reality and to have the process be enjoyable.  To me change is part of the process of defining one's desires; not a profit center. 

Some bookings are easy and others are harder.  It all washes out in the end.  If a client because truly horrifically problematic (and I recall only one in the past two years - who in the end lost out because she didn't listen to me and unnecessarily canceled a trip of a lifetime - after making repeated requests and changes to cruises) you just cease doing business with the person.  (It is a bit ironic that the same publication recently ran a story on how to "fire a client".)

A fourth suggestion is to create Concierge Level clients.  In other words, provide all the required services at a premium and short-change those that aren't willing to pay full price.  OK folks, a show of hands:  How many of you would be willing to stay with a travel agent that promised not to give you the best service unless you paid him/her extra?

On The Yachts of Seabourn everyone is treated the same.  Silversea is similar (having eliminated the butler for only certain suites approach) as is Crystal, but they do charge for alternative dining.  Regent Seven Seas still has a segregation dependent on suite category, but then again Regent also charges a cancellation fee and has turned the concept of a luxury cruise a bit on its head by declaring things "free" or "included" while charging you extra to have them "free" or "included".

People do not come to me because I am titled "Professional Travel Agent" nor do they come to me because I am the cheapest guy around.  People come, and stay, with me because I offer significant knowledge far beyond which suite to book or how to get to the ship - knoweldge how to actually "travel", great service, solid pricing and a "Wow! Eric Goldring really cares!" approach. That earns me far more in the way of referrals than a rather tacky "professional fee" or gouging "cancellation or change fee".

Like Seabourn, I believe every person I deal with in my office, on the phone or via email is entitled to everything:  My best efforts, my solid pricing, my focus on assisting them in achieving their desires.  Could I charge a Professional and/or Change Fee?  I guess I could for a while...until my clients found an agency like Goldring Travel now is.  You know the one:  The agent that believes you should be treated by your travel agent as you will be on a Seabourn cruise.

What do you think? Join the discussion at The Gold Standard Forum.