Atle Brynestad is practically synonymous with small, yacht-like cruise ships, having founded Seabourn in 1986. After selling it to Carnival Corp., he went on to found SeaDream Yacht Club, which operates two 112-passenger ships. Brynestad recently reassumed the role of SeaDream CEO after the resignation of Pam Conover in November. He spoke about the line's future with cruise editor Tom Stieghorst.
Q: Your ships can go just about anywhere. How do you go about narrowing the options?
A: We're always looking to try unique ports, places where the big ships cannot go. Places where we can also have unique shore excursions. And sometimes we have to go to the bigger ports where also the big ships are going, like St. Petersburg or Helsinki, but then we secure a berth in the middle of the city, very, very close so someone can just walk from the ship to the important things to see.
Q: I understand Northern Europe is a new itinerary this year. Are you planning to go back in 2015?
A: We were in the fjords and the Baltic three years ago, and it was very successful for us. We would like to have SeaDream back there every few years. We do this region different than the big ships, sailing around the islands; we go to small ports. It's a very different experience. In Oslo I will give all the guests a complimentary tour to see my crystal factory, as well.
Q: The competition in your segment seems to be growing with Windstar, Silversea's expedition ships, Viking Cruises' new ocean ships. How do you see this new competition affecting SeaDream?
A: I like competition because it makes everyone better, and this is a benefit for the people traveling with all those different companies. I really don't see those names as direct competition because they are each developing ships that are bigger and more into the cruise industry, and we are staying much more like a yacht. We have 95 crew to take care of 112 guests, so we are a smaller size. Nothing wrong about the others, but it's still different. Business is growing, so even though there are new ships coming in, we see more business, and we see that as a very healthy development for SeaDream and that we are appreciated in the market.
Q: Where do travel agents look for prospects for SeaDream vacations?
A: There are many [people who] own their own yachts. Most of these private yachts are taking 12 guests. If they want to bring some more aboard, they're using us. And there are those sailing on larger ships that would like to try something else that is smaller and more personal. We also see we are getting people who say, "I would never go on a cruise," those we call the anti-cruise crowd. Very often they have heard of us from their friends or their travel agent recommended them, saying try something else if the big ships are not for you.
Q: Travel agents play a key role in qualifying customers for SeaDream.
A: We appreciate the close relationship we have with travel agencies. We often have travel agents sailing with us, experiencing the SeaDream quality firsthand. We also know more travel agents are successfully selling us for charters, let's say for milestone life events like the 50th birthday, or for family reunions. There was one travel agent who recommended SeaDream for a family reunion. The travel agent earned $150,000 on that particular recommendation in commission.
Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly.