Shortly after Wayne Heller announced that he would relaunch Orient Lines next year, I asked him if he was concerned about taking on such an endeavor in a time of economic uncertainty.
"As a businessperson you always have concerns, but the question is, do we live in a world of fear?" Heller responded. "Every cruise line has had to take risks."
That was July. Last week, Heller said that he would have to delay Orient's inaugural season, citing the current economic climate. The cruises were to have begun in April.
Heller, who founded the Cruises Only agency in the 1980s, could not have anticipated in July that the entire country would in fact be living in a world of fear today.
While Heller called the inaugural season's cancellation a "delay" and said he was exploring possible options to relaunch the line at a "more favorable time in the near future," it appears that he found himself in the wrong place, with the wrong company, at the worst time.
Orient opened its bookings on its ship, the Marco Polo, in early September, just before the Dow Jones Industrial Average made a historically unprecedented plummet and as Wall Street banks began folding like bad poker hands.
Both Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. have since told analysts that cruise bookings began a precipitous decline in mid-September. And Carnival and RCCL have both said that their longer, more exotic cruises have suffered the most -- Orient's shortest cruise was 11 days, and its longest was 36.
In October, consumer confidence fell to a low, and unemployment shot up. Heller furloughed a number of employees, including the company's executive vice president, Bruce Nierenberg, in an attempt to save money. Soon after, Orient laid off most of its sales team.
Heller's timing in launching Orient could not have been worse. But according to some travel agents, this was not the same Orient Line that Heller said he was going to revive, price-wise.
"All I can say about the new Marco Polo team is that they were trying to charge twice as much as the older Orient Line," said Kristopher Krenz of Pak-N-Go Cruises and Tours in Brick, N.J. "I really don't think the new team would have offered the same experience."
Orient's original prices for an 11-day, Med cruise started at $2,999 per person, and prices started at $4,649 for a 16-day, Baltic cruise. The line slashed those prices in October, but by then it might have been too late.
"I'm not sure there were many bookings to refund," said another agent. "A few people asked about Orient, but nobody wanted to book such a long and expensive cruise right now."
As for Heller's background as the founder of Cruises Only, Krenz said this did not impress.
"Selling travel is much different than planning and operating a cruise line," he said.