Ashford Says 145-Year-Old HAL Is A Cruise Line For The Ages – All Ages

Bruce Parkinson, Open Jaw

After five years of a singular focus on “evolving and advancing” the product, Holland America Line president Orlando Ashford says it’s time to tell a new story, and he’s going to be the face of the product to the trade.

Holland America Line President & CEO Orlando Ashford

Ashford recently took on management of the sales organization at HAL – at least for the short term – which resulted in the departure of two senior sales executives. He says his goal is to get close to the trade to “accelerate understanding” of the changes the line has made, and the resulting appeal of the product to a wider audience.

“If you’re selling based on where we were 10 years ago, it has changed,” Ashford told about 160 travel agents gathered for a luncheon and presentation at Toronto’s Boulevard Club. He also spent time with trade media prior to the event.

“There’s a lot this brand has done well for a very long time. I call these our ‘swim lanes,’ and we’ve worked to elevate our offerings in all of these areas – service, cuisine, entertainment and destination experience. But the point of opportunity – or frustration – is that we still need to upgrade perception of the product.”

In other words, many travel advisors and potential customers still think of Holland America Line as offering an excellent product – for older people. While the majority of guests are still 55+, Ashford says that doesn’t mean the experience is staid or dull in any way.

“If you equate ‘old’ with boring or slow, that’s where the misperception comes in. Our guests want to have music. They want to have wine. They want to have fun in the destinations,” Ashford said.

“Are we perfect? No,” said Ashford. “Are we really, really good? Yes, we are. And once we get guests on board, they love it.”

(left to right) Denella Ri’chard, Senior Director, Trade Communications &
Engagement; Lori Patterson, BDM, President & CEO Orlando Ashford;
Cruise & Travel Director KK Robbins; Mary Goldsmith, BDM; Bill Price,
VP Entertainment & Enrichment.

Ashford backs up that contention with the fact that the HAL Net Promoter Score (NPS) was the highest in company history in 2018, and record ratings continue in 2019.

“It’s time to tell our story, and with me delivering the message personally, we can speed up the decision-making that will help us achieve our goals. We needed a punch of energy, and I’m providing that punch.”

Mary Goldsmith, the well-known HAL BDM who has spent 20 years with the line, says she’s confident Ashford’s approach will help raise the profile of the positive changes made during his five years at the helm.

“The people on the ground know the major enhancements that have been made. And will Orlando leading the company, there are fewer layers now, and an open conversation. His door is always open.”

With a couple of recent trips on HAL ships under our belt, Open Jaw can attest to HAL’s significant evolution and improvement. 

The entertainment offering is based around live music, and the selection – from blues & R&B to rock and roll and chamber music – is widely appealing and features top-quality musicians. 

The cuisine is first-rate, from the main dining rooms and buffets to some excellent specialty venues, plus culinary education through the America’s Test Kitchen partnership. 

The ballyhooed partnership with Oprah has been a high-profile winner, introducing a wider segment of the population to HAL’s offering through the genuine positive response from one of the world’s most visible celebrities. 

Onboard service is superb, and enrichment is stronger than ever, with multi-media EXC Talks a big step up from the lecture format of old. 

No, you won’t find go-kart tracks or water slides on HAL ships, but that’s not what everyone is looking for, regardless of age. For the curious and cultured, however, Holland America offers a product that is in reach of many budgets, and delivers on many levels.


Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.

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