ONBOARD THE CRYSTAL SYMPHONY -- Meeting with 74
top-producing agents last week at Crystal Cruises' sales gala, CEO Tom Wolber
laid out a plan to refocus on ocean cruising and stabilize the company after a
period of rapid growth, while also focusing on the agent community.
The top producers, who had to generate more than $1 million in
revenue with Crystal to qualify for the sailing, responded positively, saying
the focus on ocean, the cruise line's core, is the right call.
"My team and I are very aware of the challenges that we
all faced and are facing together," Wolber told agents. "A lot of
these challenges were due to a number of reasons, including rapid growth,
introducing new technologies and processes and launching new ships and
experiences -- and all at the same time.
"While we were doing that, we were growing our team in
different locations around the world. So we have taken the first seven months
of my time here at Crystal to refocus and recommit to the delivery of the
Crystal brand that has resonated with audiences for over 27 years."
The gala was Crystal's 27th but Wolber's first. He joined
Crystal last September, replacing Edie Rodriguez, who one month later took a
position at Ponant. Wolber came to the line from a long career at the Walt
Disney Co., including 10 years at Disney Cruise Line.
He said that 2018 would be "a year of focus on
That means minimizing itinerary changes, enhancing
technology and fine-tuning communication procedures to grow both Crystal's and
"As you well know, Crystal has very long enjoyed a
loyal and very devoted fan base, which is largely due to the great onboard
experiences on our ships," he said.
Wolber specifically pointed to "generous space," "genuine
and professional service," "attention to detail and quality," "immersive
destination experiences" and choices to help offer personalized vacations.
"So we are going to remain focused on these pillars
throughout each sailing, each refurbishment, each new experience and each
vessel launch," he said. "Simultaneously, we reaffirm our commitments
to you as we strive to be a pleasure to do business with. We're committed to
providing tools and resources that will help you grow your business, and we are
committed to listening and learning from you on how we can be better partners."
Wolber said Crystal will focus on its ocean ships,
specifically looking toward innovation and a pleasing design aesthetic. That
was evidenced in last year's improvements to the Crystal Symphony, bringing
open-seating dining; technology upgrades, including free WiFi and a new guest
portal called Crystal Connect that enables guests to access information about
the ship, such as menus and activities; new penthouses and more. The Serenity
will undergo a similar transformation this fall.
Crystal will also strive to bring new clients aboard -- many
are attracted to river cruising, with the average age of guests skewing a
little lower than those on oceangoing ships -- and provide new experiences for
existing clients. Initiatives like the Crystal Endeavor, a polar-class
expedition yacht, will also help attract new audiences, he said.
Wolber has already begun scaling back some plans. For
example, he decided to reduce the size of the three oceangoing ships it has on
order, in the area of 60,000 to 65,000 gross tons, and eliminate the residences
portion of those ships. Crystal's service component is not conducive to larger
ships, he said, and after researching residences further, the cruise line found
that the concept wouldn't work aboard a passenger vessel. The ships will be
known as Crystal's Diamond class.
Agents in attendance were pleased with Wolber's comments and
the direction he is taking Crystal.
"In the last few years, there's been too much
announcement, not enough delivery, and so I think for their best clients who
are here, I think it gives them a sense of confidence," said Alex Sharpe,
president and CEO of Signature Travel Network.
"They see that [Wolber] is focused, and he's going to
make sure that the team is focused on fixing it. It's not about what's coming
next, it's not about the bluster and the press releases and all the rest of it.
It's about delivering, and we have a great business with Crystal. I can't
afford for the ocean [cruise product] to become second fiddle."
Sharpe also praised Wolber's simplification of some things,
such as the elimination of residences on future ocean ships.
"It was exactly what I wanted to hear," Sharpe
said. "It's just a different speed and a different attitude than we've
heard in the past, but I think that's good."
Michelle Fee, CEO of Cruise Planners, pointed specifically
to Crystal's refurbishment of its existing ocean vessels. "At some point,
you can't just keep expanding without investing in the hardware," she
Avoya Travel co-founder Van Anderson was also pleased with
Crystal's renewed focus on ocean cruises.
"I was glad to hear [Wolber] say that their focus is
going to be what got them here, which is the ocean," he said. "It
doesn't take away from the river, but the river can't be the tail that wags the
The sales gala provided many with the opportunity to meet
Wolber for the first time. Among them was Anderson, whose early takeaway was
that the new CEO is "very competent" and moving the brand in a good
"Crystal's always been trade-friendly," he said. "They've
got a very small direct team. They'll do everything they can to drive the
business back to the agent. They have a history of that. I don't see that
changing, I really don't."