In the Hot Seat: Rich Campbell

President, Atlantis Events

Rich Campbell, president of Atlantis Events, a company that charters entire ships for all-gay cruises, spoke with Travel Weekly Destinations Editor Kenneth Kiesnoski about his business and the challenges it faces.

Q: Some tour operators place groups of gays on mainstream sailings. Do you consider them competitors?

A: Its a totally different business, and not a very interesting one to me. There are agents who sell gay cruises, but basically block a group of rooms, take ad space out, tell clients its a gay cruise, and it ends up being 30 gay guys among 2,000 other passengers with no [gay-specific] itinerary. 

Q: What challenges do you face?

A: The hardest thing is convincing people that a gay cruise is a quality vacation experience. There is a lot of skepticism in the market as to what makes a gay cruise gay. Its very had to encapsulate this experience in a tag line, a marketing message, one page or even a 36-page brochure. Its an experience thats very individual and personal.

Q: Have you met any resistance from cruise lines in chartering all-gay sailings?

A: The hardest thing was convincing them to take us on as a resale charter because resale means, in theory, that were competing with them. I had to convince them that our marketing is under a different structure and that our marketing doesnt reach the general public. Were not displacing; we are enhancing because if we take two weeks out as a charter, they only have 50 weeks to sell.

Q: You tailor the guest experience down to the nitty-gritty. Do partners such as Celebrity Cruises take issue with that?

A: We completely micromanage, and Celebrity is beyond cool with that. We work with them, not against them. Weve always insisted that at its core, [an Atlantis charter] is a Celebrity experience at its finest, with all the Atlantis stuff intertwined.

Theres no way we would ever do something to denigrate a cruise brand in any way. Ive watched other groups come in and try, and they push the cruise line so hard that the host company essentially says that they dont want to deal with them.

Q: Have any of your cruise line partners ever gotten any anti-gay backlash?

A: Back when we started with Club Med in 1990, the company did get tangled up with [American Family Association founder] Rev. Donald Wildmon, who decided he was going to start a letter-writing campaign. The truth is that most of the organizations that make a stink dont [book cruise charters].

Q: In general, you tend to attract well-off men. With the market booming, can you begin to market to other sub-categories?

A: I am hesitant to further segment a market as small as the gay and lesbian segment. Im worried if you slice too thinly, youll be serving too a narrow market. That said, were looking to see if we can create an experience that appeals to a younger market: a little less expensive, closer to home, with less air fare involved.

Q: What can cruise lines learn from Atlantis Events and its competitors?

A: Cruise lines have to differentiate themselves in terms of who theyre selling to. If they all keep trying to be mass-market, theyre going to commoditize themselves out of business.

Q: Will you move into non-gay affinity travel?

A: Wed love to do that.  

To contact Destinations editor Kenneth Kiesnoski, send e-mail to kkiesnoski@travelweekly.com.

Get More!

See Travel Weeklys Cover Story on July 17 for Kiesnoskis story on all-gay cruises.

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