An Ever-Evolving Industry – The Scoop From Cruise360

by Vanessa Lee

Lifetime Achievement inductees Bill Smith & Rudi Schreiner with CLIA President & CEO Cindy D'Aoust 

Windstar’s Steve Simao & Joe Duckett with Vanessa

Avalon Waterways’ Patrick Clark with Vanessa

Ponant CEO for the Americas, Navin Sawhney with Vanessa

Last week I was in Vancouver happil‎y ensconced in my cruising world at CLIA's Cruise360 annual conference. One of the highlights was the induction into the Hall of Fame of 2 absolutely marvelous men, Rudi Schreiner Co-owner of AMA Waterways and Bill Smith, V.P. Cruise with Virtuoso, a man who has had a remarkable 30+ year career in cruising and who was formerly President of Silversea Cruises. Rudi’s impact on river cruising has been pivotal and outstanding and both gentlemen received the Lifetime Achievement award.

I know both men very well, am proud to call them friends and colleagues and want to express further congratulations for their remarkable career achievements and for also being 2 of the  best people I know – in every way. And when Rudi brought his fabulous wife (and  business partner) Kristin Karst up onto the stage to share in his special moment, it brought the house down and I admit I had a few happy tears.

So what else happened at Cruise360? Well I have to say the attendance was disappointing and not enough travel professionals came to learn more. It seems Canada was fairly well represented but I had hoped to see more of you, I must say. The U.S. agents also seemed to be m.i.a. and I am concerned as we really want to keep Vancouver as the venue every 3 years for this CLIA event. We may lose this to Seattle in 3 years and if that is the case, it will be a huge loss not only for Vancouver but for our own at-home market.

Cruise360 really is a great few days for learning, listening to panel discussions, seeing ships, meeting with cruise lines and finding out more at the 2 day trade show. Education is imperative as we all know, and with so many smaller lines now being an integral part of CLIA, it really increases the breadth and scope of the potential for incremental knowledge. And of course, there is a great deal of unfettered access to senior cruise line execs – something which cannot be ignored.

Windstar told us about their new Windstar Promise – “Shining Brightly Together” with an ever increasing focus on working with travel agents (their most important business channel) and being more supportive in every way. The equally impressive new Groups program which launched recently is also a great new initiative from Windstar with better TC’s, inclusions and commissions. Steve Simao, Windstar’s V.P. Sales is an agent advocate of the highest degree and the brand is certainly reaching out more and more. And they have plans for growth – with a desire to add more ships in the next few years. With 3 sail yachts and 3 motor yachts they do have a lot of capacity – more than people think. I would love to see a sister ship to Wind Surf arrive in the fleet I must say! But that’s me just wishin’ and hopin’.

I also learned more about Avalon Waterways’ new ships and onboard enhancements from Patrick Clark, who will undoubtedly be an inductee into the Hall of Fame in years to come, as he has also contributed greatly to our industry. As many of you know, I have a special relationship with Avalon as I am the Godmother of one of their gorgeous Suite Ships, the Avalon Vista. They finally have bicycles on board (perhaps my nagging on this topic did help!) which guests can book for their own touring enjoyment or they can join a special shore excursion with guides. Avalon has also introduced “FRESH” which is a healthy meal alternative for guests who prefer to eat more lightly at times. They have partnered with 2 Austrian chefs (brothers in fact) to work on providing superb and tasty farm to table meal options for this new inclusion.

The cruise line is also now offering beer and wine with lunch as well as at dinner. More theme cruises are being offered  - such as culinary, beer and wine, jazz and more - which appeals to a younger demographic. Also and in keeping with that focus, new Active Discovery tours are being introduced with at least 3 choices of a shore excursion in each port. The CLASSIC tour is more traditional then there’s the ENGAGE type of tour which offers more connection – perhaps going to a vineyard or an orchard to pick peaches and see how they find their way into all manner of things or, perhaps a pub crawl or cooking class as an example.

Then there’s the ACTIVE tour which might be something like a 30 min. hike up to the Danube Bend or canoeing on a river (that’s new!) or playing golf. So in fact a wide range of more active tours that will appeal to many different guests and simply add more choice overall. A fine idea.

I also spent time with Navin Sawhney, CEO of the Americas for Ponant who is a most articulate and engaging speaker and heard more about Ponant’s 4 new small expedition ships launching between 2018 and 2020.  Lots going on with that brand and all very exciting. One of the items the audience picked up in the presentation was the focus on cruises to the Arctic where there is so much to see and do in the summer months. Not only ice fields, glaciers and icebergs, but all manner of wildlife including polar bears, walrus, seals of all kinds, bears, wolves and more. Plus fascinating ports of call with local flavour and colour and a chance to engage with the population. Their video footage is fantastic and certainly this brand is deserving of more attention. And they offer beautiful yachts in an all-inclusive environment sailing under the only French flag at sea.

More next time on developments with Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, Crystal Cruises, MSC, Seabourn and more! So much to see and do it can’t all fit in just one column.

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