As hotels and resorts use challenges related to Covid and health safety as reasons to reduce services and the amenities they offer guests, a high-end cruise line says it offers more luxury than before the pandemic. It does this, while protecting its affluent clients by going beyond the protocols found on earth.
Josh Leibowitz, President of Seabourn cruise line, a unit of Carnival Corporation & plc, told reporters aboard the MV Seabourn Ovation, docked in Miami, “We want you to feel at least as safe as Main Street and maybe even better. Our Covid rates in the (cruise) industry are lower and there is more testing. Having tests and vaccines is a great combination. “
Seabourn requires that all passengers and crew be vaccinated and tested before boarding. When crew members join, they quarantine themselves for seven days with pay. They stay in suites normally occupied by guests and have internet and movies available while in seclusion. After that, they are tested regularly. Add to this that Seabourn complies with the rules of the countries visited by its ships.
“The zero Covid does not exist. If you’re going to live your life now, you’re going to follow the immunization recommendations of the CDC and other authorities … and take whatever precautions you can take, whether it’s masks or social distancing. If you compare this environment to any other while traveling, it is by far the most controlled environment, ”according to the executive.
He continued, “Having been in the last six months in a dozen luxury hotels, you don’t know who is vaccinated and not. All of our team members are vaccinated and we have already started booster shots because we want them to be healthy and they need to be healthy to work in order to be able to support their families.
The line added “improved sanitation and cleaning,” as well as special filters and UV lamps in parts of the vessel that do not have 100% outside airflow.
Currently, Seabourn has returned two of its five ships to service, with the remaining trio scheduled to welcome guests again by the middle of next year.
However, the main story could be that the line has added services and equipment at a time when its land-based competitors are citing labor shortages and anti-virus protocols to remove them.
“I got to Seattle and got there at eleven and was hungry, and (the hotel) didn’t have room service. They cut it. And in the morning, they took hot breakfast to the executive lounge. Our strategy is that we have added things. For example, hundreds of new recipes, a new breakfast service option. We haven’t taken it off, and people are really enjoying it, ”Leibowitz said.
Unlike some resorts, staffing was not an issue when it was restarted. Of his crew on board, 99% who responded to a survey (about two-thirds of the total) wanted to come back, 80% saying they were ready immediately and the rest within six months.
Since taking office as chairman in June 2020 – the McKinsey alumnus has been with the world largest operator cruise ships since 2013 – Leibowitz supports innovation.
For example, when he found out that his cabin hostesses, previously known as flight attendants, were exclusively women from Europe, he opened up the job to all genders from anywhere in the world and created a new junior attendant position. By having the entry-level position, Seabourn now has a solid pool of newcomers in training to evolve.
While the chain’s head of hotel operations started off as a waiter, Leibowitz said, based on the feedback, he has now implemented a program that makes it more transparent how to grow into different roles and more. students.
While some hotels struggle to restock basic amenities like branded shampoos, Seabourn can “cannibalize” from ships that are not yet in service, Leibowitz said.
While hotels have downsized or closed restaurants due to staffing issues, everything works as usual on Seabourn trips, and so does housekeeping. The line maintains its “almost one-to-one” ratio with staff.
This does not mean that there are no challenges. Regarding the return of the crew, he says there are more documents to bring them from their home country to ships and then once on board quarantine procedures. Hiring qualified medical staff was also difficult, and the company had to increase pay.
For passengers, Leibowitz says Seabourn not only offers all the services it offered before the cruises stopped, but added more. It has expanded the dining options with hundreds of new recipes inspired by the healthy eating trend. This includes more vegan, vegetarian, and plant-based options as well as classic options. A new outdoor restaurant has been added and a snack menu at the Club now changes daily. A new app allows customers to order their cappuccinos in advance, make various online reservations or view the ship’s extensive wine list. There is a classical concert on the bridge during the sailing events. Free Wi-Fi has become unlimited and bandwidth has been tripled. Despite higher costs for the products he buys, he continues to steal fish from Japan for the sushi he serves.
One difference is that ships do not sail at 100% occupancy, a pre-Covid industry standard. This is in part due to the allocation of suites for quarantine and isolation.
Leibowitz attributes the remaining shortfall, not to lack of interest, but to a shorter sales window. “We reveal the schedules two years in advance and 60 to 90 days (before departure) are full.” When Ovation restarted, the line only had two quarters of selling time. “If we had sold during a normal period, we would have been oversold,” he told reporters.
As travel reboots and luxury hotel rates rise, it also highlights the value of high-end cruising. For its average daily price of $ 1,000 per day for a suite, guests get an all-inclusive experience. This includes fine dining at restaurants aboard Thomas Keller, premium liquors, handcrafted cocktails, and even hand-made ice cream from chefs who travel to Bologna, Italy for training.
“You go to Anguilla, and it’s $ 3,000 a night for the room,” he noted.
The large spread means that Seabourn no longer discounts before departures. Unlike traditional cruise sales practices, prices now go up before departure. That said, the line recently launched its first sale designed to increase bookings throughout 2022. It ends at the end of the month, and Leibowitz says prices will rise after that.
Seabourn Ovation currently sails from Miami with a series of cruises to the Western Caribbean and through the Panama Canal, ending in Los Angeles. For the summer, it will move to the Baltic, with popular seven-day itineraries. Originally it would have been sailing from Australia at this time. This country remains closed to cruises.
It also highlights the current challenges for lines and customers. Since ships visit multiple countries in a single voyage, both need to be flexible. This summer in Greece, passengers could go down to ports and do their own thing. In Italy, they were required to stay in a bubble with other guests.
The pandemic is also creating new models for booking guests. A big trend is to book four or five cruises at a time, and customers have booked cabins for the whole winter. The friends who join them for parts of their trip, in some cases, are first-time cruise passengers and overall the guest profile is getting younger.
Leibowitz describes Seabourn as “active luxury” and directs a visit to a lower deck where, in good weather, there is a marina filled with the same types of water toys found on a superyacht.
Yet on the main passenger decks, young and old alike will be impressed by the Adam tihany interior designed, combining modern and classic elements, with high quality materials and innovative lighting. It serves as a stage for the Seabourn team to provide their high quality service.
As an example of the excitement of being back and responding to the whims of his clientele, Leibowitz appoints the entertainers. In some cases, they haven’t performed in front of a live audience since the cruises stopped in the spring of 2020.
Leibowitz recounted a trip this summer where a honeymooning couple booked after their wedding and the original plans had to be changed several times. They wanted to dance the night away, so at 2 a.m. the pianist was still playing alone for them on the dance floor.
The combination of not cutting back and an enthusiastic team is reflected in Seabourn’s Net Promoter score. So far, five trips have achieved a perfect score of 100, meaning that out of several hundred guests, all the scores were at least nine or 10 out of 10.