Hapag-Lloyd Cruises has come up with a novel wrinkle that lets passengers choose their own ports of call by a democratic vote for the May 14 cruise on its Europa 2 luxury ship, the company's internationally marketed vessel.
"This is really something very special," said Karl J. Pojer, the CEO of Hapag-Lloyd. "The only two fixed points are the leaving port and the arriving port. For the rest, every day, the captain and the crew discuss with the passengers."
Pojer said the idea was tested last year on Hapag-Lloyd's Europa ship, which is marketed to the German-speaking market in Europe.
The Europa 2 cruise departs May 14 from Istanbul and is scheduled to arrive May 24 in Athens. Passengers are given a list of 20 destinations in the eastern Mediterranean from which to choose. Each day, the captain will consult the weather forecasts and give passengers a list of possibilities.
Karl J. Pojer
"He's not going to say, 'Go to Route C' if on Route A the weather is better," Pojer said. "So he can guide it a little bit."
Once the choices are outlined, passengers can hear from a destination expert who describes the highlights of the potential ports. Then they vote using a secret written ballot. The captain and his team tally the votes and announce the destination that evening.
"At the end of the day, it's a democratic vote," Pojer said. "People are excited about it because they feel like they are deciding on their trip. For us, it's a great opportunity to show our flexibility. Could you imagine a mainstream, big company or [big] ship doing that? It's not possible."
The 500-passenger Europa 2, which launched last year, is the main vehicle for Hapag-Lloyd's push to diversify its business base beyond the German-speaking market. Last year, the number of international guests grew 107%, Pojer said.
He said the number of English-speaking guests on the Europa 2 increased by 98%, exceeding Hapag-Lloyd's internal goal.
The company has made efforts to market the Europa 2 in English-speaking markets, especially in North America, by advertising the ship's bilingual staff, its six restaurants and its small-ship destinations. Their North American general sales agents are Euro-Lloyd Travel Group (877-445-7447) and KAI (800-334-2724).
"We're very much specialized on the routing," Pojer said. "We're able to go almost anywhere. This is one of our unique selling points. Hapag-Lloyd is also oriented to children and families, which is unusual in the luxury segment."
Although not all-inclusive, the Europa 2 has made a nod in that direction to suit American preferences, Pojer said, by offering a beverage credit as part of the cruise fare. It ranges from between about $110 and $225 per person, depending on the length of the cruise.