Mystic Cruises USA, an arm of Portugal's Mystic Invest Holding, will rebrand itself as Atlas Ocean Voyages and throw its hat into the increasingly crowded ring of luxury expedition cruise lines.

Atlas plans to launch its first ship, the 200-passenger World Navigator, in June 2021, to be joined by three identical vessels by mid-2023. 

The move represents a strategy shift for Mystic, whose first two ocean ships are to be operated on a white-label basis for two other brands, Quark Expeditions and Germany's Nicko Cruises.

The strategic shift follows the investment in June of nearly $300 million into Mystic Invest by Certares Management, a New York private equity fund with a portfolio of travel holdings that includes partial stakes in Travel Leaders Group and AmaWaterways.

The funding means "a more full-force, bigger focus in the U.S. market," said Atlas president Alberto Aliberti.

Passengers will be sourced mainly in North America. For distribution, Atlas will exclusively use travel advisors for at least two years, Aliberti said, adding, "We'll continue that for as long as it is working."

The commission structure for Atlas Ocean Voyages is still being finalized but will be designed to get the fledgling brand off to a fast start, said Brandon Townsley, Atlas' vice president of sales.

"We're going to provide for everyone a very quick path to get them to 15%," Townsley said.

Atlas will offer "luxury small-ship adventure cruising on expedition-style ships," Aliberti said, emphasizing that while Atlas will do expeditions, it will fill the balance of its year with adventure itineraries.

"The essence is, when we're not in expedition mode, we want to be in adventure mode," he said.

Atlas expects prices to be in the range of $650 to $1,250 per person, per day, depending on the itinerary and level of accommodation. The average itinerary length will be 10 to 11 days, with a few seven-day options. The passenger-to-crew ratio will be just under 1:1, Aliberti said.

Atlas is jumping into a niche full of established players, with names such as Ponant, Hapag-Lloyd, Hurtigruten and Crystal as well as aspiring new entrants such as Scenic Luxury Cruises & Tours, which just christened its 200-passenger Scenic Eclipse.

Aliberti said Atlas will find its level with a price and concept of luxury that are higher than some, lower than others and by delivering a "barefoot billionaire" atmosphere that fosters a sense of community among passengers.

Atlas will open for sales in the fourth quarter and be vigorously promoted to agents during Wave season.

Townsley said he is about to launch an outreach campaign, starting with the big luxury consortia but not excluding independents or noncruise sellers.

"The plan is to be very surgical and go out and find those travel advisors who are like-minded, a bit on the adventurous side, who like to incorporate wellness and adventure and those types of experiences into their planning and are selling in different ways than a traditional mass-market seller," Townsley said.

Mystic had set up a small office in Fort Lauderdale to do micromarketing in North America, and that office has grown to 25 people, with plans to house 55, including a soon-to-be-hired reservations team, Aliberti said.

A small number of passengers will be sourced by Mystic's German brand, Nicko, but the ship's language will be English, and its passengers will be predominantly North American.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Aliberti has been with Mystic since 2006 and before that, with Cunard.

After the World Navigator, Atlas has said, the line plans to take delivery of the World Traveler in the spring of 2022, the World Seeker in late 2022 and the World Adventurer by mid-2023.

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