Seabourn is seeking to become a luxury lifestyle brand through tie-ups with the likes of Harrods and Unesco. Rupert Murray talks to UK managing director, Lynn Narraway
Seabourn is one of a select few cruise lines in the ultra-luxury cruise sector. And its place at this particular table has become only more assured since the announcement of two new ships.
The proportion of Seabourn business that comes through the trade is a staggering 97% so it’s no surprise the line is very focused on its partners and that UK managing director Lynn Narraway has recently joined the Aspire board to help bring Seabourn and the trade even closer.
What does the future hold for Seabourn?
We are in the middle of exciting times, with three ships already in place and now two more on their way. Encore will begin sailing at the end of next year and Ovation in 2018.
This means Seabourn has the youngest luxury fleet in the world because our three current ships were built in 2009, 2010 and 2011. The new ships, although bigger at 600 guests, have the same footprint but with an extra deck. This means balconies for every room, an extra restaurant and more outside space.
What are your main focuses?
We’re looking a lot at brand partnerships. We already have some, of course, such as Molton Brown and Tiffany.
A new partnership we’re excited about is with Unesco World Heritage. We feature 86 destinations with Unesco sites, and we have put together shore excursions that allow guests to go behind the scenes with experts. And we donate money to Unesco for every guest who visits.
What do these partnerships achieve for you?
We want to be a luxury lifestyle choice and brand, and partnerships help position us in that way. There is so much more to a cruise with us than the ship and that’s what we are trying to get across. We are not just an ultra-luxury cruise brand but an ultra-luxury brand.
The Unesco partnership, for example, helps us cater to experienced travellers who aren’t just looking to go to a port of call but want insight to where they are. That’s why we offer private guides, private drivers and bespoke excursions that agents can help put together before they board as the destination is the number-one reason to cruise.
That’s why we try to use language that is about the brand rather than the fact you’re on a ship. We have also partnered with Harrods as it gives us amazing access to new guests.
The design of the new ship has been created by Adam Tihany who has never done a ship before. He has previously focused on restaurants and hotels. Food is a key area for us which is why we have partnered with Thomas Keller and in fact some of his recipes are being tested with guests on Odyssey at the moment.
Do these initiatives separate you from other cruise lines?
We’d like to think we are moving towards ultra-luxury lifestyle, and that separates us slightly. But at this end of the market, all the brands are great and everyone does a good job but we have to differentiate.
What else is new?
We are back in Alaska in 2017, having not sailed there for 15 years. The day after this went on sale I had a call from an agent telling me they had two bookings for £30,000 already.
That’s because Seabourn guests haven’t had this option for a while, coupled with the very high repeat factor we enjoy, as soon as a new destination becomes available, bookings will follow. For the Alaska cruising, we will have Zodiacs and kayaks so that guests can get to places the big ships can’t.
What kind of agent do you like to work with?
With Seabourn, the agent needs to offer a concierge-type service. We tend to work with partners with a passion for service and our travellers want someone who sees them right the way through the journey: someone who knows what they will like and want to see.
It’s a kind of advisory concierge, as a lot of these busy people don’t even have time to think about where they might like to go.
Some 97% of our business comes through the trade as luxury travellers want that personalised service. We like our partners to have done the Seabourn Academy.
Knowledge is king, so the more they know about the destinations and the ships, the better. Luxury is a good focus for agents and can create a brilliant business.
What advice would you give agents considering selling Seabourn?
It’s important to remember that having never sold a luxury cruise before doesn’t matter. The questions are, do you have luxury travellers, do they like long-haul destinations and do they like really good service. They should focus on the type of client and see if what we offer fits.
We are happy to work with agents if they want to do a consumer event. These help find new-to-brand and new-to-cruise customers. At a recent one we did, 95% of those there hadn’t cruised with us before.
The most interesting trend from that night was the number of couples where one wanted to cruise and one didn’t. And actually Seabourn customers love talking about Seabourn so agents could use guests to bring in new ones with events such as small dinner parties. There is a cost, of course, but it’s worth it as we always get bookings off the back of events.
It’s also important to know we have a high repeat factor and it’s all-inclusive, so commissions are very healthy.
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