Crystal, the former two-ship luxury cruise line that six years ago embarked on an aggressive and sometimes questionable expansion into rivers, yachts, expedition ships -- even a failed private air cruise line -- appears to again be shifting focus.
According to an email a Florida ship broker sent to other European river operators, Crystal's entire river fleet can "be developed for sale." And it notes that "the owners are very serious sellers."
Crystal executives declined to comment on the purported sale of its
rivers ships or whether it meant the company was looking to exit the
sector or had some other strategy for the business. Note: After this Insight was published, Crystal "emphatically" denied any contractual relationship with the broker and has sent him a cease-and-desist letter.
At the same time, Crystal's owner, Genting Hong Kong, apparently is readying an expansion of Crystal's expedition line, including building a Crystal Endeavor II and other ships that it would operate for and under luxury hotel brand names.
Likewise, it declined to expand on the news of its expedition plans reported by Australia's Latte Luxury newsletter. The Signature media outlet said Genting Hong Kong's group president, Colin Au, revealed the vision and plans for its shipbuilding company, MV Werften, during a christening of the company's first expedition ship, the Crystal Endeavor.
Both the river and expedition lines, along with Crystal Yachts, were launched around the same time that then-CEO Edie Rodriguez announced plans for air cruises. The company bought a Boeing 777, then canceled the $150,000 per person trips just 80 days before its first departure.
• Related: Crystal Cruises names godmother for expedition ship
Although there have been industry rumors that Crystal's river business was struggling in recent years to fill its ships even as global demand for river cruises was growing and other operators were expanding their fleets, Crystal asserts, to the contrary, that in 2019 its five ships sailed with over 97% capacity and the line averaged a 91.3% occupancy since it launched in 2016.
In 2019, Genting said it was refocusing its original ship, the Crystal Mozart, which was the only one its fleet that wasn't a custom newbuild, on the Asian market. This March, however, Crystal said it was bringing the ship back due to high demand. And Walter Littlejohn, Crystal River Cruises' managing director, in an email response to queries this week about the purported sale of the river ships, said the company "is taking record-breaking levels of bookings for 2022 for all five ships."
Still, things have been rocky for Crystal and its parent. Genting last August suspended payments to creditors on almost $3.4 billion, citing the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. And the company has struggled to refund customers for cruises canceled during the pandemic.
What happens next is anyone's guess.
Update: This report was updated to include new information on the purported sale of Crystal's river cruise ships, information from Crystal on its occupancy rates on its river ships and the shift in focus for the Mozart.