In April, Ken Watson became Silversea Cruises' executive vice president and COO. Cruise editor Johanna Jainchill spoke with Watson about recent changes at Silversea and the line's newest ship, the Silver Spirit.
Q: What makes the Silver Spirit special, and what will be different for Silversea passengers?
A: It is slightly larger, 540 guests and 36,000 tons, which allows more public space. More choice is the best way to put it. We have six restaurants, [including] two new ones. [There's] Stars Supper Club, where you can come for cocktails and stay late. It's nightclub-style entertainment. We also have a fusion restaurant with Asian cuisine. It's small and intimate and really different. That adds to our uniqueness. There is an 8,300-square-foot spa. It offers a number of programs unique to us, such as medi-spa treatments like Botox.
Q: How will its size affect the Silversea experience?
A: A ship below 600 guests is the ideal size for Silversea. The relationship with our crew, that 1-to-1 relationship, we don't want to lose that.
Q: How has the Spirit been selling?
A: The Spirit has been booking very well. Venetian Society guests who sailed with us in the past want to sail with the new ship. We also have a lot of demand from new guests, in particular in North America. For 2010, there is some space, but we're starting to fill quickly.
Q: Has the Spirit cannibalized from the rest of the fleet?
A: The fleet is doing well across the board. There is always trepidation when you add capacity across the fleet. The Spirit has added a lot of capacity, and we are absorbing that capacity by adding new passengers.
Q: Since you arrived at Silversea, what changes have you made?
A: We have tried to make Silversea much more travel agent-friendly. Our partners are travel agents, and we want to have great relationships with travel agents. Whatever we do with the agent community, we are listening to them and trying to be as flexible as we can. We have done an awful lot of development on our direct-mail and e-marketing side.
Q: Silversea has quite a few alumni from Regent [including Watson, who served as executive vice president of sales and marketing until resigning last March]. What have you all brought from Regent to Silversea?
A: One thing you learn when you are selling million-dollar necklaces, there is a huge service component that goes with that. If you are going to keep your customers for long periods of time, you have to be able to serve them in unique ways. It's a very high-touch, high-customer-service industry. You take that learning, and you want to translate that into a luxury cruise industry, as well.
Q: You were a big reason behind Regent's going more all-inclusive and dropping a lot of its noncommissionable fees. Can we expect that at Silversea?
A: We are investigating all opportunities to provide a better relationship and partnership with the agency community. There are other things we are looking at as well. I really do believe that people would rather pay up front and get it over with.
Q: The Prince Albert II was inactive for a while last year, after you canceled the Tahiti season. Will that happen again?
A: That is over with. What we've done is we've found the right itineraries and a unique guest experience. We found the guests that like this. They are younger, more adventuresome, and they are already rebooking the Prince Albert II. It is going to go to South Africa and the west coast of Africa as we reposition to the Arctic.