Friday, May 25, 2012

Goldring Travel Featured In Article on Email Marketing Strategies

B2B Online just published an article on me and how I use email marketing to keep in touch with my clients...That would be you!

http://www.btobonline.com/article/20120524/EMAIL/305239994/entice-customers-using-four-valuable-email-tactics#seenit


Entice customers using four valuable email tactics


May 24, 2012 - 6:01 am EDT

Goldring Travel caters to both consumers and business customers looking to book high-end, upscale travel. The company's business clients are unique in that they are just as likely to jet off to to an overseas business meeting as they are to take colleagues on a personalized safari. Email marketing is an important part of Goldring's overall marketing strategy.

Over the three years the company has had its email program in place, Eric Goldring, the Colts Neck, N.J.-based company's CEO, has learned a lot about what gets people to open and click through to the company's website or blog. One of the most interesting, he said, is that while his email metrics are high—open rates hover around 75%—customers rarely purchase what's featured in the emails. “They will see my emails and then call me up asking for something completely different,” he said. “The content of the emails is definitely not the hook or the bait. It's the little splash in the water that attracts their attention.”

Below, Goldring details four other email tactics that he uses to entice and interest his business customers.

1.     Take advantage of multimedia options. Goldring Travel belongs to the Ensemble Travel Group, a member-owned organization of more than 850 travel agencies across the U.S. and Canada. As part of that, Goldring gets access to an e-newsletter populated with video and images related to destinations, cruise lines and other travel-related collateral. It's that content, Goldring said, that gets people excited about traveling, even on mundane business trips. “I know which offers are in the emails and can target users depending on past travel and destinations,” he said. “Twice a month is the max that I am touching my clients, so something that's exciting and visually appealing really inspires them.”

2.     Use triggered emails to support sales, and not just before you make a sale. Most companies use triggered emails to remind people when their subscriptions are almost up or when new products are released. Goldring, however, uses triggered emails post-sale with good results. A week before clients leave, an automatic email is sent to remind them of the trip. Customers get another email soon after they return. “It gives them a way to tell me if they had a great trip or had any problems,” he said. “I want to reach out to them before they reach out to me.” It also presents a perfect way to inquire about future travel needs, he said.

3.     Employ humor to boost interest. Humor is a big part of Goldring Travel's email marketing program. For instance, once a month a welcome email goes out to new subscribers. It includes a survey designed to gauge the type and frequency of travel that new subscribers are interested in. “I've got funky things in there as answers,” Goldring said. “Like, "Complete this survey and you might win something—not really.' I use humor to project my personality, but it also makes people remember the company. I always get comments about it when I get people on the phone to book travel.”

4.     Treat business clients like consumers. Although his business clients get emails that consumers do not, they also receive everything that goes out to his b-to-c clients, Goldring said. “Business clients do leisure travel, too,” he said. “The consumer emails remind them that I am there for them no matter when they need something.”

Friday, May 18, 2012

TravelCat2 Reviews Regent Seven Seas Voyager - Instructions on How a Mediocre Cruise is Rated as Six Star

I know that if you Google "Regent vs. Seabourn" or most things similar my article from September 6, 2010 "Seabourn vs. Silversea vs. Regent - Forget Loyalty; Which Provides the Best Luxury Cruise Experience?" is No. 1 on the search page; not only because is covers so much of the information and topics people are interested in, but because so many people read it.

It now being 1.5 years later I figured I would hit "refresh", but not to increase my page count but to see make sure that the information I put out there remains relevant and accurate.  Now, clearly I have not been on Regent cruise recently and, to be honest, after you read this you will know that I really have no desire to....nor should you.  Harsh?  Absolutely.  Reasoned?  Absolutely.  Why?  Read on! 

First things first:  Regent is regularly the most expensive cruise line out there.  I personally book hundreds of cruises every year and now go through this exercise in my sleep.  Take just about any Regent cruise with its deceptive "free tours", "free drinks", " free gratuities" and it will be more expensive than a similar itinerary in similar accommodation on Seabourn, Silversea or (usually) Crystal...and more double the cost of a premium cruise line such as Celebrity.  (And, remember, on Regent you are cruising with approximately 100% - 300% more guests than you would be on Seabourn or Silversea.)

Why would I mention Celebrity?  Because Regent Seven Seas has a gimmicky presentation where it compares itself to a premium line or two and magically it comes out to being less expensive.  Yes, I am sure there are a couple of cruises like that out there, but I have yet to find it.  So, you are paying for every single one of those "free" things...dearly. 

That said, I am not going to look at the comments as Regent Seven Seas being the most expensive cruise line out there, but simply being a purported luxury cruise line.

Now to the substance.  TravelCat2 just wrote a review of her May 2012 Mediterranean cruise on the Regent Seven Seas Voyager.  TC2 is as famous as she is infamous for being a Regent Seven Seas cheerleader.  In her eyes Regent is as beloved as her cats, so everything she sees is eventually seen with fur (rose colored) glasses.  And, to be sure, she is a prolific (and exasperating) writer. Her rating was 5+ Star with the only thing getting less than a 5.0 was the spa at 4.0.

She arrived into Istanbul and found (was not greeted) by a Regent representative...who didn't have her name on the list.  So she found a second Regent representative...who also didn't have her name on the list.  So she waited in the middle of Istanbul airport "After 15 minutes or so (and asking more questions), the Regent Rep. that had our names showed up. Unfortunately, all of us had to schlep all of our luggage to the bus." Can someone tell me how this is is 5+ Star service?

After deciding that hanging out in the executive lounge at the Ritz Carlton was better than venturing out into Istanbul that evening, she starts her pre-cruise excursion to Cappadoccia.  (Having been there I can assure you it is an outstanding place to visit, but I digress.)  After a short flight, "Once we arrived, once again it was our responsibility to manage our own luggage."  Can someone tell me how this is is 5+ Star service and Shore Excursion?

After settling into her hotel, "The Guide told us that we could dine any time between 7:00 and 10:00 p.m. When we arrived at 7:30 p.m., there was a table for 21 set up and the expectation was that everyone would show up at 8:30 p.m. We were permitted to sit down and ordered a bottle of wine and ordered (not even water was included at this hotel). As other members of the group came down, they were seated at the same table. The service was so slow that, by the time we were served dessert, guests who arrived 45 minutes after us were deserved dessert at the same time. Food was mediocre."  The next day she commented, "Lunch was the best food we had since arriving in Cappadocia. Dinner that night at the hotel was arranged properly and the food was somewhat better." Can someone tell me how this is is 5+ Star service and Shore Excursion?

After again hauling her own luggage she arrived back in Istanbul for the standard tours of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sofia and Topkapi Palace commenting, "We walked for a long way to get there only to learn that it would take a long time to get in and that it would be packed once we were inside. By then it was approximately noon. The group was going for lunch after Topkapi. We decided to go on our own and take the tram to the ship (after thanking and tipping our wonderful Guide).Can someone tell me how this is is 5+ Star service and Shore Excursion?

I pause and ask, "If TC2 rates being abandoned in the Istanbul Airport, schlepping luggage, dining disasters and a tour of a major attraction that was so poorly organized it was abandoned as 5 Star, what the heck is the measure of the ship?"

Well, let's take a brief look.  She engaged in what I consider to be a troublesome tactic of seeking out a specific waiter in the main dining room requiring me to again ask, "Is the waitstaff on Regent Seven Seas so suspect that you only have good service if you use specific waiters?"  Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star service and dining?

And then there is the casual dining venue, La Veranda.  She write, "Breakfast in La Veranda before an excursion is great. It is a buffet with an egg station (remember to pay attention to your table number -- they will deliver your order to the table).Toast is also prepared at that station -- it only takes a minute so I just wait."  Wait a minute!  I have to take a number on a luxury cruise?!  Seriously?!  On Seabourn, you may enjoy the buffet, but if you want eggs (any way), pancakes, etc., and toast, it is ordered and served at your table by a waiter.  Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star service and dining?


Now, while TC2 is continuing on with her ambiguous (and inaccurate) raves, during her Cruise Critic thread another poster on the same cruise wrote, "We are also on the Voyager now until Rome. Must add to all of your hard work that the food descriptions are lovely, impressive, even.  The portions, quality, and taste are, for the most part, crap. The food on Regent...is just going downhill faster and faster. Cost cutting measure are evident to anyone who has sailed with them before. I would say the food is fair, edible, passing. No more WHOA!! FOOD PORN moments, LOL. Those can still be had in Sigs and Prime, though. I wish there was no need for specialty restaurants on these ships. If only the food in CR rivaled the specialties every night... sigh... the good old days.  Don't even get me going about the wine pours. Or the baked (shall I say defrosted) goods?...I am a foodie, and the offerings are disappointing at virtually every meal. We have been eating off the ship at every opportunity."  Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star dining?

BTW, on Seabourn the baked goods are made fresh every day.  It is an incredible process that literally works around the clock.  If you are interested, I have photographs of all sorts of baked goods being prepared.  (This also reminds that the reported old habit at Regent of ordering croissants from Sam's Club may be gone, but not forgotten.)

And then TC2 fesses up, "Food is subjective. Many repeat Regent customers notice a big difference from a few years (months) ago to now." Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star dining?

On Seabourn caviar is served regularly and is always available on request.  In fact, Seabourn has sourced environmentally sound true Caspian Sea sturgeon caviar (farmed in the Black River region of Argentina).  On Regent, according to TC2, "Once per cruise they have an event with cocktails (like we really need more to drink:-) and caviar. The big draw for us is the caviar."  Can someone tell me how this is 5+ Star dining?

And then I came across this gem, "the hot entrees on the La Veranda buffet is the same as in Compass Rose."   Do you know what that means?  It means that in all probability your dining room lunch is pre-cooked and sitting in a pan in the galley waiting for your arrival.  It is not, as it is on Seabourn, cooked ala minute (as it is ordered).  That does not, in and of itself, mean the meal will be terrible, but it does mean that an elegant or delicate preparation is not happening and, as seems obvious to me, there is less staff in the galley and of those staff fewer are actually cooks or chefs. 

So now back on tour, TC2 comments on her extra cost $129 per person tour of Dubrovnik.  She comments that the first stop was a "tourist stop" followed by a winery where she was "not impressed" and then for a drive with a lunch that was "a bit of a disappointment" and the an enjoyable olive oil "place".  Not for nuthin', if that is a $129 per person extra tour, what the heck was the free tour and, of course:  Can someone tell me how this is a 5+ Star shore excursion?

And then reality hits, TC2 states as to the included tours, "I'm not a fan of included excursions. However, since they are there, we are taking advantage of some of them. I understand your point about having the energy or enthusiasm for DIY. On the oher hand, when faced with 390 passengers on the same excursion (approx. 16 buses), my eyes glaze over. We had five busloads (not full -- about 30 per bus) arrive at the restroom stop at the same time. Need I say more?Can someone tell me how this is a 5+ Star shore excursion?

How about a bit on ambiance? On TC2's second leg of her cruise she wrote, " Many people are showing up in the Observation Lounge as late as 7:30 p.m. in shorts -- or, in one case, barefoot. The Cruise Director is mentioning the dress code every day -- hope it helps as it must be embarassing when they are told to go to their cabin and change. We love the Elegant Casual dress code but do not want to see t-shirts and shorts after 6:00 p.m. It is quite easy to put on slacks and a nice top. Speaking of dress code, no one can wear hats in Compass Rose at night -- no matter how expensive or classy they are. And, there are some rules about baseball caps being worn inside."

Now, I can only consider what is written and if this is written by a well experienced Regent Seven Seas passenger who is very much an admitted cheerleader, then why, why, why would I risk my and Goldring Travel's reputation suggesting that you pay the high prices of a Regent Seven Sea's cruise when there are clearly better options with Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal and even Azamara Club, Oceania (Regent's sister cruise line) and Celebrity?

But, should you think this is limited to the Regent Seven Seas Voyager, how about some recent Cruise Critic comments concerning the Regent Seven Seas Navigator.  I was recently reading a review on Cruise Critic of the refurbished Regent Navigator. The review was glowing, everything was great, and nothing could be better...AND THEN...

Another poster chimed in stating, "Perhaps because few on the ship ever ventured into the open air, the public spaces inside were generally overcrowded. There were precious few nice, quiet, comfortable places to sit and read or whatever. For us, this was such an important difference between Navigator and Voyager/Mariner, where you can always find somewhere gorgeous to relax outside your suite. La Veranda was often full at breakfast and lunch, with P7 open for the overflow. The no-self-service Navigator lounge is tiny, with all tables usually full and can't compare with the cafe corners in the other slightly larger ships. The absence of an observation lounge is a distinct disadvantage."  Then another poster stated, "I agree with everything from the above post."  Then the originating poster stated, "I agree that with the pool deck often closed or unusable, public spaces were tight."

A fourth poster jumped in stating, "we found the public spaces over crowded, and this negatively impacted our time on the Navigator. On a sunny day, we often thought longingly of the beautiful spaces on the Mariner pool deck with comfortable seating and plenty of shade. On the Navigator, it was impossible to get a lounger in the shade after 9 AM on a sea day. I also concur on the tiredness of the staff. Although there were many excellent staff members, I witnessed several uncomfortable exchanges between staff and passengers."

Let's now go back to my September 2010 article.  Nothing has changed for the better.  It sounds to me like things at Regent Seven Seas has gotten worse. Oh, there are raves about service, but then again look at what has been rated 5+ Stars.  It doesn't make you wonder.  It makes you worry!

What do you think?  Join the conversation on The Gold Standard Forum or give me a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Cruise Critic Has An Ethical Obligation Not To Exploit Troubled People

I am all for making money, but there is a line that shouldn't be crossed.  I, personally, believe that Cruise Critic has crossed that line and it does so willingly and with a profit motive...taking no responsibility for giving a forum to those who may have significant sociological and/or psychological issues.

I have watched for years as people have fabricated stories, seriously embellished stories and stirred things up.  But there comes a time when there is a limit to what an open forum should ethically allow.

But you say, "Anyone can say anything.  Who is Cruise Critic to police what they say?"  Well, to be honest, Cruise Critic.  If you really take a look at its practices, it regularly bans people from posting and does so under the guise of disrupting its "community" or making a personal attack or simply because it can. So it has a practice of limiting, suspending or banning people for doing things it believes is incorrect.

So why does it allow a person who - shall we say - sits at The Patio Grill of the Seabourn Sojourn every evening having little to no interaction with the ship's staff, other guests or even the ports to post absurdities every day for over a month when there are clear signs of anti-social or sociopathic conduct?  The answer is "clicks".  The poster either has a huge number of followers or, as is suspected by many to be the reality, has the time to run up the views to astronomical figures in a effort to create self-importance.  Either way, "clicks" or views results in advertising profits for Cruise Critic.

So what is the harm?  There are many. 

First, if there is a person with an obvious probability of being something other than quirky providing a forum for them to act out can be harmful, if not dangerous.  I don't want to get into the studies about such things, but they are out there.  Repetitious comments can be a sign of trouble; especially when overemphasized and clearly false.  A seemingly benign comment by someone who says The Colonnade or room service is being KILLED or FULL ON ATTACK or MADHOUSE, etc. shows a rather violent streak; especially when he insists he is not embellishing...and such conditions simply never exist on a Seabourn cruise.  (There are busy times, but violent characterization is clearly inaccurate and troublesome.  Another person who was on the same cruise wrote:  "we had superb service and never came across any problems in The Colonnade at breakfast or lunch. We always found a table outside and thankfully never came across anyone pushing or shoving".)

Second, when someone is obviously a loner and doesn't partake in most any social activities complains about such things as a woman  trying to "literaley mow me down and push me aside as I was trying to cut and spread the goat cheese on a two crackers" I have to ask two questions: 
  1. Why the violent reference yet again?; and,
  2. Why would this judgmental person believe it would be appropriate to spread cheese (assumedly with a public serving knife) on his crackers when the proper thing to do is place the cheese on one's plate and attend to its preparation while sitting at a table.
I get that he may have found Cruise Critic to be his social life...because alas it is not a social place, but a place where he can have seemingly anonymous interaction...but there is a warning flag flying.  (Where are the comments about something positive?  Heck he even complains about his pre-breakfast chocolate muffins and any person - whether they actually exist or not - that doesn't comport with his standards...whatever they may be!) There is a reason the phrase, "Get a Life!" exists...and Cruise Critic should not permit itself to be the enabling vehicle for what appears to be a very troubled soul.

Third, Cruise Critic knows there are many people that read its message boards and when something is clearly askew, allowing it to continue on only creates knowingly false impressions of what a Seabourn (or other) cruise is like and thus, with Cruise Critic's blessing, causes the ill-informed, easily persuaded and newbie to change their plans, worry levels or expectations so they do not receive what they actually want.

Fourth, it hurts the Cruise Industry and the cruise line in question.  There is a saying that any publicity is good publicity, but when things like falsely reporting complimentary upgrades or service flaws or extraordinary treatment, it hurts a cruise line's, travel agent's, and other guests' reputations and ability to easily and efficiently transact business. The travel industry has a terrible black eye with consumers because of the plethora of travel businesses and agencies that do not act ethically. So while it is not shocking that Cruise Critic does not seek to rise to a high ethical standard, I believe it is time for it to put some ethical constraints in place.

Is any of this against the law?  Probably not.  But is it ethical? I believe it is extremely unethical.  And, to be sure, the company that owns Cruise Critic, Trip Advisor, was recently found to violate England's ethic's laws. You can read the article I wrote:  Trip Advisor - Reviews You Can Trust? Not According to the Advertising Standards Authority .

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Regent Seven Seas: Ships Fuller, But Very, Very Slim Profits

It is fairly common knowledge that Prestige Cruise Holdings is trying to bring Regent Seven Seas public and the most recent financial report out today doesn't bode well for that as revenue, capacity and passenger counts are up, but profits were cut to a third of what it was a year go over the same quarter.

More specifically, Regent's revenue was up over 15% to a new record, its passenger count was up 4.7%, but its profits plummeted to a mere $400,000.  To keep that in perspective, there was $119,900,000 in revenue so something is amiss.

To me it is a mindboggling disappearance of profits when a 15% increase in revenue is shown.  And, to be sure, to this skeptic, I have a sense of where there is smoke there is fire. 
  • Were/are costs being deferred with creative accounting to make things look better than they really are (and it is catching up ala Renaissance Cruises)? 
  • Are costs associated with Oceania Cruises (which is struggling to fill its ships and just had two new ships built) being pushed onto Regent now that the they have combined back-offices?
  • Is the high cost of "free", "free", "free" everything catching up with it?
And, once again, the concept of Regent building a new ship has risen its head...for five years running now, I believe.  Folks, a new ship requires profits and profits equal to one cruise line executive's compensation package for a year isn't going to justify to even the most liberal of spenders that a new ship can be afforded or justified.

But to me the thing that I honestly cannot understand is how Regent continues to fill its ships while the reviews continue to roll in with great inconsistency and every time I comparatively price a Regent cruise versus a Seabourn or Silversea cruise it comes out to be more expensive. 

From a business stand point I would consider Regent Seven Seas a "sell", but from a travel advisor's perspective I would consider it a "buy with caution". 

Don't agree with me or want to see for yourself, call me at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com .  I would love to chat about it.

Seabourn Club - Luxury Past Passenger Program Expanded...Quietly

Seabourn Cruise Line has just released its revamped past passenger program known as the Seabourn Club.  I say "released" rather than announced, because Seabourn really hasn't said anything about it to anyone. 

First:  Don't Panic!  The "old" Seabourn program of earning a free seven day cruise after 140 days of sailings and a 14 day cruise after 250 days of sailings (if you don't take a free cruise at 140 days) remains as part of the new Milestone Awards.

Now a short video about the program and then the details:



The Seabourn Club (other than the Milestone Awards - discussed later) is really set up more like a frequent flyer program with multiple ways to earn "points" rather than being based merely upon days at sea.  I have two feelings about this:  It most certainly provides an earned nod of appreciation to those that sail...and spend...more, but it also eats away - if every so slightly - at the Seabourn concept of everyone is treated equally.  Overall, though, I think it is significant upgrade to what has been a stagnant program for many years.

There are five tiers: 
  • Member
  • Silver (20-69 Points)
  • Gold (70-139 Points)
  • Platinum (140-249 Points)
  • Diamond (250+ Points). 
With each day sailed, each day sailed in a penthouse or premium suite, each day on a Seabourn Escorted Journey and for every $500 of eligible onboard and pre-cruise online purchases (casino and future cruise deposits don't count), you earn one Seabourn Club point.  So, for example, if you purchase a 10 day cruise in a Penthouse and book $500 of spa treatments and shore excursions you would receive:
  • 10 Points for Days Sailed
  • 10 Points for Days Sailed in a Penthouse or Premium Suite
  •   1 Point for Purchases
for a total of 21 Points.  That would, if it was your first Seabourn cruise, make you a Silver member.  However, you would not get the Silver benefits until your next cruise; a common practice.

OK, so what do you get with your Seabourn Points?  This is where it gets a bit like a Chinese Restaurant Menu, which I think is way too complicated (and has a bean-counter feel to it), so I am providing you with a one page summary of the complete program first:


Benefits both expand as do your menu choices as your level goes up and include both Onboard and Land-based benefits.

On the ship, as a Silver Member you get ONE (that's right, only ONE) of the following: 
  • 10% off Shore Excursions
  • 10% off Premium Wines and Spirits
  • 2 Hours of Internet
  • 20 Minutes of Telephone
  • A Seabourn Signature Massage
  • A Day in the Spa's Serene Area (Odyssey-class ships only)
  • 1 Bag of Laundry
As a Gold Member you get TWO of the same items, but with a 15% Discount on Wines & Spirits, 3 hours of internet, 30 Minutes of Telephone or Laundry every seven days.  Platinum gets you THREE but with yet richer discounts and internet time.  Diamond Members get ALL benefits including, but not limited to fully complimentary internet and 25% off Wines & Spirits.

On the land, Gold and higher gets you get from 10-20% off luggage shipping services, a subscription to one of two popular travel magazines (Travel & Leisure or Conde Nast Traveler - neither of which I think are terribly good), and some fluff like variously colored luggage tags and Platinum/Diamond members receive a dedicated Seabourn Club Concierge (useful I guess if you don't have a great travel advisor like Goldring Travel).

Milestone Awards are, as I said, the free seven day cruise at 140 days or a free 14 day cruise at 250 days plus a Tiffany & Co. gift at 100, 200, 500, 1,000, 1,500, 2,000 & 2,500 days.  (And, yes, there are some Seabourn guests at or near the top tier!).

OK, so you may be wondering what Iamboatman/Goldring Travel thinks of the new program.  As I have hinted, I think it is a great improvement, but far too complicated; in part because it seeks to seem more robust than it is, but also because it tries to please everyone...which is not only dangerous, but impossible.  The result is going to be hours of my time spent explaining this program to confused people and that, to be sure, could not have been much of a factor when the program was developed.

To be fair, there are many good things about the new Seabourn Club program and I have been waiting for it to be released for over a year.  The most important aspect of the program:  Seabourn has increased the benefits of sailing on Seabourn to its guests; not reduced them as many feared.

Join the conversation about the new Seabourn Club Program.  Tell us what you think on The Gold Standard Forum!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Upper Premuim vs. Luxury Cruise Lines - What Are The Differences?

With the maiden voyage of the Oceania Riviera upon us, and her accolades flowing, there are some comments and some things happening that show the real distinction between Luxury and what has now become called Upper Premium cruises.

But before I get into the specifics, you need to ask yourself:  Does it matter?  For some of you it will not matter one bit, but for others it makes all the difference in the world.  That is not a criticism of one, but it is a reality that any good travel agent must respect because you should never pay for something you do not want or is not of relevance to you.

I am a luxury travel advisor.  I enjoy the finer things in life and appreciate the nuances; the things that take the really nice and make them extraordinary.  The differences matter to me; not because I am guilty of making that dreaded "List", but because I inhale everything from the extra care to the special effort to the wonderful effect. 

A landbased example from this weekend: For Mother's Day my family dined at Restaurant Nicholas. (BTW, I had the six course tasting menu with a very nice 2009 Domaine Samuel Billaud Chablis, Les Grand Terroirs with a cheese course in lieu of the dessert.) Mother's Day is a very difficult day for service as there is high demand all day. Our meal was a bit slow - though we enjoyed our time together - and there were a couple of small service glitches. We wound up just a glass short of wine to complete our meal. The sommelier saw this and brought my wife and I a complimentary glass of wine...each one paired to our specific dish (she had lamb and I had suckling pig)...and then brought out the dessert I passed on...complimentary as well. Someone else might have said, "Who needs a six course tasting menu...at those prices?"

In short, if you are someone that simply wants a standard cabin with decent food and a good time this article and the differences are irrelevant.  If not, read on!

Difference No. 1 - Oceania Cruise Line's Customer Loyalty "By Decree"
*Bad Value for the Cruise Consumer*

Oceania has just announced a very restrictive policy that assures you pay the highest possible price while receiving the least amount of value.

It has done this by limiting your ability to transfer your direct bookings...right after it eliminated travel agent discounting and limited how and how much travel agents can add value (upgrades, onboard credits, etc.).  Oceania Cruises designed this "system" to box you in to your financial and service detriment

Now, if you book an Oceania cruise directly with the cruise line and want to transfer that booking to a travel agent, you MUST transfer it within 30 days of making the reservation (not from the deposit date) or that travel agent will not earn a commission and, thus, you will not receive any added value or amenities (which can be equal to 5% of the cruise fare).

This is, to my mind, not Upper Premium no less Luxury. It is anti-competitive and abusive to the consumer.  So you need to ask yourself, "If Oceania Cruises won't let me move my reservation or rebook it with the travel agent that gives me a better price/value and more personalized service, what are the other limitations I am going to experience?"

Caution No. 1 - False Perspectives vs. Realty...Your Reality 

And with that thought two comments by travel writers caught my eye. In Travel Weekly, the author wrote that the Oceania Riviera's Owner Suites at about 2,000 square feet "is larger than the house [she] lives in" (rents?) and Paul Motter, that rather angry/frustrated/incompetent editor at CruiseMates wrote "Seabourn is for people willing to pay extra for a product that really delivers next to nothing, solely because they have been able to convince certain people that "quiet solitude" is an asset worth paying double."

Respectfully, when someone who rents a small house or you know is clueless as to luxury gives an opinion, you need to stop and ask, "Do I and my desires identify with that person? If they don't then I should be very careful when I read what they write.."

As for Paul Motter's fraudulent - yet again - diatribe, I just took a look at a 14 day Northern European cruise on the Seabourn Pride versus a 10 day Northern European cruise on the Oceania Nautica sailing at about the same time. On Seabourn you would pay $16,021 for a 277 square foot French Balcony Suite and dock right in downtown St. Petersburg overnighting for three days, while a 216 square foot Concierge Class cabin with premium drink package costs $15, 372 including gratuities while docking an hour outside of the city.  On a per day basis, Seabourn is less expensive than Oceania...and there are only 208 guests vs. 684 passengers.

A Few of Examples of the Differences
Between Upper Premium and Luxury Cruises

OK, now onto just a few of the differences between Upper Premium and Luxury cruiseships

Content (Not Size) Matters

Some people complain about the size of the televisions on the new Seabourn Odyssey-class ships and are thrilled with the televisions on the new Oceania Marina and Riviera suites (with one even overlooking the outdoor whirlpool tub in the top suites).  What is the difference between the two?  On Oceania (except in the suites) you must get DVDs from the ship's library and bring them back to your suite.  On Seabourn you have hundreds of movies on demand coupled with a very sophisticated on-demand entertainment/information system.  For me, deciding on a movie at midnight from my bed means a lot.  Looking at the sea rather than a television when outdoors means even more.  But if a big screen television is worth the limitations of walking half the ship to get a DVD...if the library is open...is worth the compromise, it is an option.  In short, size doesn't matter to me; content does.

Size Matters - Sometimes

I read that Oceania Riviera has a slightly larger shower because people found the Oceania Marina showers so small that they couldn't pick up dropped soap.  (And on the older Oceania ships the showers are so small that the shower curtain attacks you.)  And then, of course, is the issue of whether there is even a bathtub as many of their cabins (especially on the older ships) they aren't offered.  Seabourn offers a bathtub tub/shower in all its categories or seperate bathtub and shower in all Odyssey-class categories.

Service Matters

On Seabourn, Silversea and Crystal, your drinks are included...even most premium brands...so service is seamless and your glass is rarely empty when you don't want it to be and you have a properly stocked  in-suite bar setup (on Seabourn and Silversea) with Seabourn taking the added step of free flowing champagne and true caviar.  On Oceania, you can pay as you go (with hefty gratuity added) or you can purchase one of two packages (essentially chosen wines and beer with meals or open bar service with limitations), presenting your card each time.  Caviar is not really an Oceania-option and when it is you pay dearly for it.  In short, seamlessness and no sense of penny-pinching matters...especially when I am staring at Oceania gratuities of up to 18% in the face.

Cuisine Matters

And when it comes to cuisine, Oceania can speak of being a cruise line for Foodies, but the fact is that it just cannot compete with the quality, presentation and variety that Seabourn offers.  That is, in large part, because Seabourn focuses on ala minute preparation for 208 or 450 guests rather than staging for 684 or 1,250 people dining at the same time.  (Remember the delay at Restaurant Nicholas - one of the finest restaurants around - I spoke of earlier?)  Reality is that Oceania can speak of the flour and butter is uses (it really isn't that unique), but it cannot speak of going to the local fish market mid-cruise, finding something unique and putting it on the next evening's menu.

I found curious a comment by one travel writing being impressed that the tongs on the buffet on the Oceania Riviera were faced in, so that the server could use them rather than it being self-service.  On Seabourn that is "normal"...and staff is there to carry your plate...or, if you like...to allow you to sit and dine while you never go to the buffet.

What's Best For You?

This article just touches the tip of the iceberg.  But what it also does is let you know that everything from how you book, to the itinerary, to the port locations to the amenities, to service and cuisine differences remain significantly different between Upper Premium and Luxury.  And, as you see, the price just may not be the issue you have been told it is.

Remember, Goldring Travel wants you to be the best educated cruise consumer you can be...and we want to earn your business for life; not just one cruise.

If you have more questions or would like to discuss booking a cruise or other vacation, please give us a call at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or UK: 020 8133 3450 or AUS: (07) 3102 4685 or International: +1 732 578 8585.  You can also email me at eric@goldringtravel.com




Friday, May 11, 2012

Goldring to Co-Sponsor American Superyacht Forum's Sportfishing Event

For the second year in a row, I am - through my law firm Goldring & Goldring, P.A. co-sponsoring the Sportfishing Event at the American Superyacht Forum which this year is being held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

You can read more about this year's event here:  http://www.superyachtevents.com/asf/asf2012/ and watch a short video of last year's event:


Aside from my over three decades working in the superyacht industry from lawyer to yacht builder to charter agent to crossover-to-the-cruise industry specialist, I find this industry fascinating because it is a great combination of small business, huge investments, the newest technologies and an old-school environment all nicely tied together with one of the most multinational/multicultural group of people you can find anywhere.

But where I have found my love of the water and boats/yachts/ships all converge is with travel.  Becoming one of the old guys (does elder statesman sound better?) I often struggle with how yachting started out this people who loved to plot courses, find that small cove that nobody goes to, and to cruise for hours on end...and turned into a who has the largest, fanciest, yacht that they spend - if they are really lucky - four weeks a year on and usually arrive via air at or near the yacht's destination.

Yes, times have changed, but one of my loves remains a part of the American Superyacht Forum:  Fishing! 

Now I need to figure out how not to wind up with another large hammerhead shark that I didn't even catch. 



Last year I wound up with just such a fish and it now graces a wall in my conference room. 

Possibly less beer and more fishing?  Why yes, that should do it!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Italian Cuisine: Fuggedaboudit!

As you know, Goldring Travel hosts a Food & Wine Cruise every year on Seabourn.  This year's cruise, on September 22, 2012, visits England, Ireland, France, Spain and Portugal on the Seabourn Pride.  (Two suites are still available.)

Being from New Jersey I have always loved food; especially Italian food, because of it's deep-rooted history here.  Though we are not visiting Italy this year, I believe this video will assist any travelers who will be visiting Italy this summer to better understand some of the more popular cuisine.



What? 

You tellin' me you'd rather go to Itly than Joisey?  Hows bout yous visit the Jersey Shore instead? 

Fuggedaboudit!

(If you need a translation, email me!)

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Real Benefits of Booking with an Ensemble Travel Group (or Virtuoso or Signature) Travel Agency: Goldring Travel

Back in 2008 I wrote the article Travel Consortia: Ensemble Travel, Virtuoso, etc.  which set out the basic benefits of booking your cruise, hotel or tour with a travel agency that belongs to a consortium.  Of late, and of course on Cruise Critic, some significant misinformation has been set out by a colorful, if not terribly accurate, individual so I thought it a good time to delve into the subject a bit more.

First, let's set the record straight on cruise benefits: 
  1. No travel consortium provides $500 or $1,000 onboard credits as has very erroneously been reported.  The person reporting otherwise mentions these inflated amounts as being associated with Ensemble. As an Ensemble Travel Group member I can tell you categorically, it is patently false. Travel consortia negotiate with the cruise lines to identify certain cruises and on those cruises (and only those cruises) you are provided with a complimentary shore excursion or an onboard credit of up to $300 or a pre- or post- amenity with a particular vendor for up to $350.  Other times it is just an onboard credit or, on non-luxury lines, a smaller onboard credit or a category or two upgrade, etc.
  2. If you are getting a $500 or $1,000 onboard credit it probably is either a combination of the above amenity and an additional credit from your travel agency - especially when direct discounting is not permitted. (Where possibly Goldring Travel prefers giving you a direct discount because taking your money today so that I can give it back to you months later while you are on your cruise doesn't make sense to me.)
  3. Certain cruiselines - Regent Seven Seas and Oceania, for example, are now limiting those onboard credits and amenities to 5% of your cruise fare. So if you paid $8,000 for your cruise, your onboard credit will be limited to $400...unless there is also a travel consortium amenity.
  4. National Accounts almost never get better pricing than smaller agencies, but higher commission rates....because we sell more of that product.  National Accounts are simply large volume accounts.  (Obviously Goldring Travel is a national account with, for example, Seabourn.)  But that doesn't necessarily mean superior pricing or access.  I can pick up the phone and call the top folks at Seabourn, Crystal, Silversea, Azamara Club, etc. for reasons other than my sales volume...though that surely helps.  In fact, many National Accounts (not Goldring Travel) do not discount or provide added amenities, but rather charge you an additional fee just to book with them; so you actually wind up paying more!
OK, that said, here are some of the basics of - and the differences between - two of the larger consortia.  Ensemble Travel Group, of which I am a member, is a not-for-profit organization.  That doesn't mean non-profit.  It means that the money it makes is given back to its members.  Virtuoso on the other hand is a privately held company that has a profit motive; giving back to its members only a portion of its profits and keeping a good bit of its profits for itself.  The resulting products are, consequently, very different on the outside, but quite similar on the inside.

What do I mean by that?  One is in the "travel business" and the other is in the "business of travel".  Huh?

Virtuoso essentially markets itself as being superior to the products and agencies it associates itself with.  "This is a Virtuoso agency", hotel or whatever...pushing its brand first and then the brand of the associated agency, hotel or whatever.  It has been very effective in its marketing Virtuoso as a standard-bearing brand, but as an entity, it necessary favors its bigger agencies who profit off the smaller ones and it is quite expensive to belong to.  (In theory the profits it brings the smaller agencies will be greater than its cost.)  In other words, Virtuoso is in the "travel business".

Ensemble Travel Group works differently, with all of its profits being given back to its members effectively in proportion to its production with each "preferred" supplier (more on that later).  As a result, the brand being supported is each travel agency's; not Ensemble.  And because it has no selfish profit motive (only one for its members), you don't have a situation where money is spent on pushing its brand or disproportionately on it larger members. As such, Ensemble is in the "business of travel".

I looked long and hard at which consortium I should join and stay with.  I compared amenities on cruises, which hotels were in each's programs and the amenities provided, etc.  And what I found was - honestly - there is very little difference between Ensemble Travel Group and Virtuoso properties and amenities.  The differences are in how the consortia help its members (technology, marketing, profit-sharing, etc.)  And obviously for Goldring Travel, Ensemble Travel Group worked the best.

But how do these consortia make money to either put into their pockets or give back to their members?  It isn't a secret:  Similar to super-sized travel agencies, they make money from the cruise lines, hotels and tour operators.  The more their members sell, the more they get paid.  Pretty simple.

But what does this mean to you, the traveler?  Dependent on the agency, it can mean a lot or a little. For example:
  • Goldring Travel's website is fairly robust with lots of information; interesting graphics; and many ways to explore an entire holiday on your own...if you like.  You can only imagine what I can do for you - finding the best options, properties and pricing - with the technology Ensemble provides Goldring Travel!
  • Suppliers seek consortia members out to provide more information and amenities because we produce for them.  Generally non-member agencies just nibble around the edges, so the real information is hard to find and amenities even harder to provide to their clients.
  • Goldring Travel combines any available Ensemble amenity, additional supplier amenity, and  its own discount, onboard credit or other amenity, so you have a double/triple benefit.  This is especially valuable with the new Regent Seven Seas and Oceania restrictions.
But that said, keep in mind that an onboard credit on a cruise or complimentary breakfast at a hotel cannot, ever, make up for the talents of a great travel advisor.  You remember that person (or if not find one so you can "remember") that promptly answers your calls/emails; says, "I'll take care of that.  It is easy."; provides you with accurate information; seeks out the best pricing; and, of course, provides you with an overall great experience.  I have earned my membership in Ensemble Travel Group just the same way I earn my clients' business by doing just that.

[Interested in the "long version" of this topic?  Please read my June 2011 article:  Luxury Travel Agents and Their Consortia: Do They Make A Difference to Your Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal or Regent Seven Seas Cruise? ]

So if you are someone hell-bent on finding someone to share your tours, believes a cheap hotel is fine because you only sleep there even if it is 30 minutes round trip to anywhere, or thinks that "killing" a bottle of wine while "gnawing" on a lamb chop is the ultimate in fine cruising experiences, then all of this is meaningless.  Just find the travel agency with the cheapest rate because all of the benefits of using a top travel agency that not only qualifies for membership in, but belongs to, a top quality consortium don't really assist...except maybe for an occasional onboard credit.

Now you know.  But, of course, if you have any questions or concerns, please give me a call or email me.