Agents not surprised Crystal swung and missed on air cruises

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Crystal has decided to charter its 84-seat Boeing 777, the Crystal Skye, to parent company Genting Hong Kong for a 10-day September tour.
Crystal has decided to charter its 84-seat Boeing 777, the Crystal Skye, to parent company Genting Hong Kong for a 10-day September tour.

Crystal's decision to back out of the air tour business 80 days before the first scheduled departure did not shock luxury retailers.

Several travel agents said there was interest in Crystal AirCruises from their clients but no firm bookings.

"We had some clients who were kicking the tires and had done some deep dives but were not committed to it," said Paul Largay, co-owner and CEO of Largay Travel in Waterbury, Conn. He said he wasn't surprised that some things that Crystal has announced since it was acquired by Genting in 2015 haven't panned out.

"When you take a two-ship company and you expand as broadly and as deeply as Crystal has, not everything is going to go according to schedule," Largay said.

Crystal president and CEO Edie Rodriguez said the change was made because Crystal has had numerous requests for custom charters.

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"We were getting a lot of requests from groups that wanted to do their own thing," Rodriguez said. "Eighty-four seats is 42 couples, and the world is getting wealthier. They want to curate their own customized itineraries."

Charlene Fialla, president of the luxury cruises and tours division of Alice Travel in Fairfield, N.J., said the fixed dates of the tours that Crystal AirCruises had announced didn't always fit with her clients' busy schedules.

"I don't think the public realized that it's not something you can fly from Point A to Point B on the day you want to do it." Fialla said. "You really are looking for that qualified client who's looking only to go for a Peninsula hotel stay (Peninsula was to be Crystal's exclusive hotel partner) and go for 'x' amount of time. And the dates are firm, and there are a good amount of dates."

Also, given the high price, the tours could really only be offered to Crystal guests who would book a penthouse or luxury suite, Fialla said, adding, "It's still a very, very small number of people who can afford that."

While Crystal was new to air tours, several other companies have made an established business of it, including TCS World Travel, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts and Abercrombie & Kent.

Rodriguez said Crystal had anticipated the competition and felt it had sufficiently differentiated its offering by featuring 84 lie-flat seats on a Boeing 777 that could fly more than 16 hours nonstop.

"We felt we were doing it differently and better than that competition, respectfully," Rodriguez said.

Largay said that some of the other luxury lifestyle products that Crystal has created since Genting bought the company are hugely popular. 

"One of my greatest challenges with Crystal right now is availability," he said, especially on the mega-yacht Crystal Esprit and the river cruise ship Crystal Mozart.

"A lot of the other things that are perhaps closer to the core competency of what they've done before will, I think, be equally successful," Largay said.

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