Crystal’s Trajectory On Track With Rodriguez 3 Years In
From the oceans to the skies, what’s been happening at Crystal over the past 3 yr. represents something very unusual in the travel industry. The trend over the years has been for large, successful companies in the field of travel to expand to ocean cruise as a logical way of broadening their reach. Think Disney. Then Viking. And now Virgin.
Crystal represents the opposite: a cruise brand that, thanks to deep pockets, is expanding into other sectors of the business. “If you look at this plethora of options within our brand portfolio, we’re no longer just Crystal Cruises, this little 2 ship company,” says CEO & President Edie Rodriguez. “Now we are Crystal, the world’s most luxurious hospitality and lifestyle brand portfolio.”
This week marks the 3rd anniversary of Rodriguez joining Crystal, during which time the company has launched 3 seemingly diverse, yet interlinked, products. Rodriguez sums up the developments to date: “December 23rd was the 1st revenue sailing of Crystal Esprit, our yacht with the 1st ever submarine in the business, on regular scheduled cruise departures. In April we launched Crystal Luxury Air, which is our 12 seat Bombardier Global Express jet. Think of that as charter on demand air. In July we launched Crystal Mozart, which is the 1st of our 7 river vessels.”
What’s still to come? Rodriguez says later this month, Crystal will begin detailing their 3 new 100,000 ton ocean ships on order, with relevant production dates, along with several updates on other aspects of Crystal’s portfolio
“Now what we have coming are the 6 new river builds, plus Crystal Endeavour, a 2nd yacht [for 200 passengers], which will be iconic - a true luxury expedition vessel. Then there is Crystal Air Cruises. We will start with one Boeing 777 that we will launch on September 1st, 2017 with 84 flatbeds. The whole concept of this is going around the world by private jet on 14, 21, and 28 night experiences fully curated by Crystal on land.”
Rodriguez likens all of ths to a puzzle with a lot of pieces. And, how does it all fit together? “All Things Crystal is built on this 3 character acronym I coined: ECO,” she replies. “It stands for exclusivity, customization and options. Today’s global luxury consumers want those 3 things as the foundation of their vacation experiences.
She points to an example of how the products feed off each other: “In the example of the 6 couples that have chartered the 12 seat Crystal Luxury Air, it would take them from New York to Venice. Then the couples would go on Crystal Esprit, Venice to Dubrovnik. Then Crystal Luxury Air picks them up again in Dubrovnik and flies them to Vienna, and then they could go for 10 nights Vienna roundtrip on Crystal Mozart for River. Then Crystal Luxury Air comes back and picks them up again in Vienna and takes them to Barcelona on a 1 wk. Crystal ocean cruise.”
Rodriguez paints this ambitious program as making sense in part because it fits in neatly with a larger global trend, part of a changing world. The luxury market is growing. “People are buying these $50 million apartments in New York, but that pales compared to what is happening in Beijing,” she says. “Even with the latest challenges in China, the wealthy are growing in number. The world is getting wealthier.”
Not only is China adding more than a million millionaires annually but one billionaire pops up in Asia every 3 days on average. China, at last count, has approximately 600 billionaires, according to the Harun Report and other sources. For its part, the U.S. has almost 15 million millionaires, by far the largest number of such for any country - and the number is growing.
“Agents should focus on the luxury end of the spectrum because I believe this sector of the travel industry delivers the greatest ROI to the travel agent.” And, it’s not only because commission payouts are higher. Rodriguez adds, “It’s also going to be better at the luxury end of the spectrum, because the wealthy are going to still be able to travel regardless of these cyclical recessions, challenging financial times, but also in general, they are more educated and are not afraid to take chances. They go where they want to go and when they want to go and are happy to pay for the privilege.”
Crystal, says Rodriguez, will continue to have growth because the demand is there. “I’m proud to say these have been the three most profitable years in the 26 yr. history of the company.”
All the while the quality of the original 2 ship operation remains intact. This week, it was announced that readers of Condé Nast Traveler once again voted Crystal as the `World’s Best’ medium sized cruise line, giving the company 23 years of that honour.
Rodriguez sees Crystal’s growth as essential. “We’re doing all of this because, #1, if you’re not a marketing driven company in perpetual evolution, I think you will die. Being a marketing driven company, who better is there to listen to than your existing guest base? Those guests were the ones who told us ‘We love Crystal.’ They all go on other vacations, but they would prefer to do everything in the Crystal style.
“#2, after listening to our customers, we have an incredible owner who is so bullish on us and willing to invest. What owner buys you 4 ship yards to build everything that you need to protect your growth for the next 10 to 20+ years? They’re amazing.”