Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Silversea Cruises Is Shaking Things Up: A Number of Good Signs!

There is a lot happening at Silversea Cruises. 


For me it shows that there is a real commitment to this luxury line that had been slipping for a few years.  The commitment is in two critical areas:  Business Model and Financial.  I think these bode well for the cruise line...if it continues with some consistency.

Management Changes

These changes just didn't happen. The owners of Silversea Cruises essentially "cleaned house" by ending its relationships with almost the entire upper management team starting in early 2012.

Without going through the list of changes, the clear primary one was the appointment of Ellen Bettridge as President of the Americas along with Steve Odell as President of Europe and Asia Pacific. My initial impression is that Ellen Bettridge and her team have refocused Silversea on the "business" of cruising; not cruising as a business.

What do I mean by the business of cruising? 


Major Change to Pricing Strategy

Silversea has decided - as has Crystal Cruises - to use a similar Consumer Friendly pricing strategy akin to the one that Seabourn has always used. (And, to be sure, exactly the opposite of Regent Seven Seas extraordinarily expensive "package" pricing.) Now...as it should be...you will be offered a Cruise Only fare so that you know exactly what you are getting and can easily compare pricing not only among Silversea cruises, but with other cruise lines' offerings. You can, of course, still add on air, transfers, hotels and pre- or post- land programs as you wish. Silversea's calls it its "Silver Privilege" fares. I am not sure I get the rationale behind the name as it seems a bit confusing, so I will simply call it "fair".

Another things Silversea is now doing is instituting a Fare Guarantee Program - effective right up to the date of sailing (not just final payment) which also a welcome change. Under this program - tied exclusively to the above Silver Privilege fares (not packages) - if you make a written request for an adjustment due to a reduction in the Silver Privilege fare you will receive - at Silversea's discretion - a shipboard credit, suite upgrade, future cruise credit, fare reduction or some other adjustment. There is another caveat: The adjustment will be made based upon the Silver Privilege fare on the date the written request is received. While these two asterisks make the program less than ideal, it is a nice improvement. (Note: If it happens more than 120 days prior to sailing the price change will probably just be made as you still would have the option to cancel for the standard $200 fee and then have the $200 fee applied to the new booking.)

What this does is open up Silversea guests and potential guests to booking their cruise NOW rather than waiting; having been recently "trained" to wait for last minute deals.  As I have been doing with Seabourn throughout, I can now say, "There is no reason to wait to book your cruise.  If the price goes down I can protect you.  And, remember, if you wait not only may that particular suite you want be gone, the category you want to book may be gone.  So you may get a better deal...but on a more expensive cruise - costing you more money - than if you book now."

Trust me.  Booking as early as possible is the best overall strategy.  And, while I do not agree with Silversea's $200 administrative fee if you cancel, it is a very small risk/price to deal with when the upsides can be so significant.

Major Change in Protecting Pricing and Travel Agent Commissions

One of the biggest problems in the cruise industry are "bottom feeders":  Travel agents that provide cut-rate pricing and then leave the clients (you) with little or no support and/or incorrect information.  And, to be honest, there is a small portion of the cruising public that play one travel agent's pricing off another's with a plan to drive down the cruise price artificially...essentially trying to get travel agents to provide excellent service with little or no profit (and, funnily enough, Goldring Travel is in business to make money!)

Silversea, as some other cruise lines, such as Crystal and Oceania, has stepped in to "right the ship", so to speak.  Silversea has required that you pay the full retail price of the cruise; that hasn't changed. But what has changed is that now your travel agent is limited to advertising and promoting the cruise only at the Silversea published prices, but can also include:
  1. Group amenities such as those Goldring Travel provides through its afflillation with Ensemble Travel Group including Ensemble Experience shore excursions and/or Onboard Credits.
  2. Added amenities valued up to 5% of the cruise fare.
While there are many travel agents that charge the full fare and provide no amenities, Goldring Travel provides them on every Silversea cruise...along with some of the best service in the business. 

The second aspect of Silversea's approach is that now those clients who play one travel agency off another.  Now, if the client requests their booking be moved from one travel agency to another (for any reason...so don't come up with a different reason and hope you can get around it!) two simple rules apply:
  1. If the booking is transferred or cancelled and rebooked by another agency within 30 days of the initial booking, the new agency will receive the lowest tier of commission (and that is from where your added amenities are paid from).
  2. If the booking is transferred or cancelled and rebooked more than 30 days from the date of the initial booking or inside the final payment window, the new agency will not receive any commission and the original agency will still receive a commission.
In short, once you book it will not be worth your while to shop around nor will it be in the travel agent's interest to bottom feed.  While I am sure there will be some that will continue this practice...until they are caught...this goes a long way to protect the integrity of pricing (and therefore the Silversea product) and the travel agents that sell Silversea (and provide you with the luxury-focused service you desire.)  
    Major Refurbishment of the Silversea Silver Cloud
You may remember that the Silversea Silver Cloud was supposed to be refitted over a year ago and the plans were delayed due to the obviously lack of a financial commitment.  While she has always been one of the favored Silversea ships even her staunches fans complained that she was getting worn and tired.  Well, that has changed!


She has just emerged from an intensive and extensive three week refit.  The Silver Cloud's suites have all undergone major refurbishment with new beds, bedding, fabrics (curtain and furniture), carpets and veranda furniture.  All bathrooms have undergone major upgrades with new new flooring and marble appointments, as well as new bath/shower combinations or walk-in rainforest showers.  Her public spaces now have more modern color tones with new flooring/carpets, wall treatments, art work and design improvements.  The dining venues have all been upgraded and modernized with extensive renovations to the Pool Bar and The Grill, as well as to Le Champagne and La Terrazza (which was in desperate need of an upgrade to its buffet).


One of the things I have been concerned about is the consistency of the Silversea product.  It is difficult to sell a luxury product when the levels (not just styles) of luxury vary from ship to ship and sailing to sailing.  This long waited for refurbishment shows Silversea is committed to working on that consistency issue.

New Galapagos Expedition Ship

Oh, what to do with the Silver Expedition (formerly Prince Albert II)?  While I am booked on this ship for an October 2013 Panama Canal transit and exploration of the natural wonders of Panama and Costa Rica (which you can read about here) having a one-off type of ship/cruise experience especially with a smaller cruise line is difficult not only to market, but to integrate into the overall Silversea concept.

But now, as I previously reported, Silversea has acquired the Galapagos Explorer II and, after a major refurbishment in September 2013, will become the Silver Galapagos.  The ship will provide two different seven day voyages of the Galapagos Islands; one focusing on the western, southern and eastern islands and the other the northeast, central and southeast islands; making for an outstanding fourteen day voyage.

Included with these cruises are complimentary shore expeditions with certified expedition teams.  As with the other Silversea ships, butler service, all-inclusive shipboard amenities including beverages, wines and spirits, an stocked in-suite bar and gratuities will be also included.

As this product is developed, I will most certainly discuss it more.  But in the meantime know that Silversea has now established a firmer foothold in the luxury expedition market.

 
If you are interested in a Silversea cruise please give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or +1 732-578-8585, email me at eric@goldringtravel.com or Skype me at egoldring.