Johanna Jainchill
Johanna Jainchill

Trying to stay afloat as an established cruise line during the covid-19 crisis is hard enough. But trying to launch a new cruise brand?

Atlas Ocean Voyages, which describes itself as a "luxe-adventure" line, plans to launch its first purpose-built ship, the World Navigator, in July 2021, and it has four more ships on order and slated for delivery between now and 2023.

That timing is both a blessing -- that it's not launching this year -- and a curse -- in that 2020 was the year that its sales team was meant to be out at trade shows and with advisors, spreading the word about the brand.

"We were really looking forward to bringing messages to different trade shows, individual agencies and consortia leaders," said Alberto Aliberti, president of Atlas Ocean Voyages. But as a result of the coronavirus, "we had to hold up and rein the sales force back inside, and we've now become more of a telephone, internet and digital communications company."

Not being able to get face-to-face to educate advisors about the 196-passenger World Navigator and its adventure-style sailings has changed the line's go-to-market strategy and shifted more focus to print and digital media, he said.

Aliberti said he was relieved to be on this side of the crisis when it comes to the product. "We're very fortunate because we now have time to make any adjustments around the current operating environment," he said. "We don't have to rip out and rebuild. We are just turning the course a little bit during the building and training." So rather than having to retrain its crew, Atlas "from day zero" will emphasize more ways to "ensure a safe environment for our cruise guests."

He also feels Atlas is what the market will want when cruising comes back: "A small ship, completely new, that will go to unique destinations and not the mass-market destinations."

And while "completely new" could be a deterrent right now -- travel advisors and cruise executives have acknowledged client concerns about the viability of some cruise lines, especially small ones -- Atlas has what Aliberti calls a "strong mother ship." The brand is an arm of Portugal's Mystic Invest Holding and received a nearly $300 million investment by Certares Management, the private equity firm with stakes in Travel Leaders Group, American Express Global Business Travel and AmaWaterways.

For the most part, the Covid-19 crisis has not prompted Atlas to make any major itinerary changes, since, Aliberti said, the company has more than a year to go before its launch and for the most part it doesn't go to "traditional and typical marquee ports." But it did change its transatlantic sailing in October 2021 that was originally going from Portugal to Brazil. It will now sail to the Caribbean in order to bring the ship closer to U.S. and make it easier for clients and travel advisors to visit the ship. It plans a 13-day voyage from Lisbon to Bridgetown, Barbados, via Madeira, the Canary Islands and St. Lucia. Once the ship is in Barbados, a spokesman said, a two-night, roundtrip trade event is planned for press and advisors. And then the ship will depart for South America.

"The idea was that there will be a segment of the traveling population who will perhaps not be comfortable with long air travel, but also we did it because we have to support the travel advisors and we needed to give them more options," he said. "So when they think of Atlas Ocean Voyages they just don't think of these far away and exciting itineraries. And we are coming home to ports that Americans may be more comfortable with, like St. Lucia and Barbados."

Aliberti said although Atlas' launch date means travel advisors "have the luxury of booking a cruise leaving in 2021," he said "they don't have the luxury of waiting for a commission until 2021." To incentivize those far-out bookings, Atlas is offering bonus commissions on Antarctica 2021 sailings with a program called Get Paid Now that offers up to $750 per deposited booking in a gift card paid at the time of booking, in addition to the regular commission later.

"Travel advisors are our most important source in the industry," Aliberti said, adding that $750 for many cruises is a commission in and of itself. "For our particular product, it's just a thank you gift for advisors."

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