Silversea CEO chooses to keep line 'flexible'

ravel Weekly is running a series of interviews with cruise line executives. This issue, cruise editor Rebecca Tobin talks with Silversea Cruises CEO Albert Peter.

Travel Weekly:There's been a lot of talk about post-9/11 travel patterns. What are the trends in the luxury segment?

Albert Peter: Certainly, the booking curve has changed dramatically. We see a lot of late bookings, and we also see bookings when we wouldn't expect them. December is usually a very weak month, but it was very strong this time.
Our travelers are impacted by the inconvenience of today's travel -- an airport terminal is not associated with ultra-luxury. But people are getting very eager to travel again. If you reach a certain age and you're used to traveling and you haven't done it for a year and a half ...

TW:You and your competitors have placed a lot of bets on Europe this summer. How do you think that will pan out for your luxury clients?

Peter: We have a lot of European guests, so we are very privileged in that area. Bookings for the [Mediterranean] season are coming in very strong, if you're talking about Italy, Greece, the Baltics.

TW:You took the Silver Wind out of its Asia itineraries.

Peter: I didn't want it to go to Asia, and I think we were fortunate to make that decision before [the bombing in] Bali. We just didn't get that demand. The demand we're seeing today is sort of a back-to-basics approach: Europe, the Med. I don't think today is the time to go to some port where we haven't been before. ... If it's more of an [exotic] experience, these ports are out.

TW:A few months ago, Silversea marketing vice president Bill Lieber said setting itineraries far in advance is a "crapshoot" and indicated that itinerary planning would start taking place closer to the sail date. What are your thoughts?

Peter: Here we are in Fort Lauderdale [Fla.], trying to plan itineraries, not knowing how the world will [change]. We are getting bookings for 2004, so there is a need. But I could imagine a shift where two ships' itineraries are published far in advance, and two others where we wait to plan. But then, how late can you wait? If you go to places like Monaco or St. Petersburg [Russia], you really have to book [berth space] in advance. But to wait to create an itinerary that is more adventurous, that's an idea. I can't overemphasize that with our reassurance program, people have the flexibility to cancel at the very last moment. I'm trying to help as much as possible to make sure the purchasing decision is an easy one.

TW:That leads us to Silversea's new program, Personalized Voyages, which enables guests to embark and disembark at different ports during the cruise. How did the idea for that come about?

Peter: I always look at myself as a potential guest. Why would I not go on a cruise? If you want to promote cruising to a younger generation, you have to give them more flexibility. A working executive is not able to book 12 months ahead. I think this brings us more to my idea of floating resorts. I've said it: We, the cruise industry, have to stop comparing cruises with cruises. ... We have to compare them with the shore product.

TW:You'll be bringing the Silver Wind back into service in June.

Peter: It's going to be completely remodeled. The Silver Whisper still is brand new, and the Shadow [debuted] in 2000. The Silver Cloud was completely refurbished.

TW:Why did you keep the Wind out of the market for so long?

Peter: Sept. 11 had a dreadful impact on us. At that point, I was confronted with the decision to either dump inventory or keep the standards up and reduce inventory. Given that we are thinking very long-term, the decision was an easy one. But, for a smaller company like Silversea, the more ships [in operation] the better, because of the synergies.

TW:By that logic, wouldn't a five- or six-ship fleet be better than a four-ship fleet?

Peter: We don't have any plans for expansion. But it's safe to say I keep my eyes open. In two-and-a-half years, we will have a whole new world. I'm sure the economic climate will be a lot better, and, by the way, in two-and-a-half years I don't see any ships coming in from our competitors. We have a lot of bad news in the market, but [expansion] is certainly very much a topic on my mind.

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