Bill Leiber, Senior Vice President, Sales & Marketing, Silversea Cruises, discusses the significance of flexibility and convenience in luxury travel today......

Cruising into Convenience

The fallout from the events of September 11 and the Iraqi war put a significant, but temporary, dent in the luxury cruise business. So far, the industry has seen a definite resurgence of bookings over the past 6 months. However, cruise lines are adapting to meet the demands of travelers in the new travel environment.

Since the luxury consumer places a great value on ease of traveling, September 11 dramatically altered the "Convenience Factor" previously associated with luxury cruise travel. Unfortunately, air travel today is often viewed as a hassle not worth taking. Since cruise operators cannot control this transportation mode, we're looking at convenience factors that are within our reach.

Luxury travel today doesn't mean adding more champagne, better caviar, or fluffier pillows; it's all about flexibility and convenience. If we look at what we have to offer as far as things like food and services, we can always improve, but I would say that Silversea is 99 percent there. The big component for the future is "flexibility". This is where we can really make a difference and it is an area that we're strongly focusing on.

At Silversea, we feel that luxury, convenience and flexibility are all closely linked. However, cruising is still very structured in many aspects. Sometimes you can only do certain things at certain times in certain places. At Silversea, we are analyzing the whole experience to come up with innovations that will put us on the top of the ladder in terms of convenience.

In 2002, we recently launched a revolutionary new way to cruise called Personalized Voyages, a unique purchasing option that allows guests to custom design their own cruise vacation experience. With Personalized Voyages, guests enjoy the flexibility and convenience of deciding when they want to embark and debark to create their own personal version of the ultimate luxury cruise vacation. As long as guests stay onboard for a minimum of five nights in a row, they are able to determine the length of their voyage based on their own travel desires – embarking and disembarking by choice from a selection of over 200 enticing ports.

Personalized Voyages are available in addition to the more traditional end-to-end air/sea and cruise-only fares, and offer a unique alternative to staying in a traditional luxury resort hotel. Similar to a luxury resort stay, guests sailing aboard Silversea decide when they want to check in and check out. But, unlike a typical land resort, we offer comprehensive value by including exquisite dining, a wide selection of fine wines and spirits, taxes, gratuities, and entertainment in the daily rate, plus the convenience of exploring multiple destinations without having to transit airports or change accommodations.

Personalized Voyages is truly an innovative concept that recognizes the need for more flexibility within the cruise experience. At Silversea, we are defining a new level of luxury by recognizing that different people have different travel styles at different times. In some instances, guests can only travel at certain intervals for a set number of days, particularly as many travelers are combining leisure trips with their business travel plans.

The program addresses the needs of today's luxury traveler by giving them total vacation flexibility. We're enabling guests to customize their vacation experiences to fit their needs, not the other way around. With today's affluent traveler, the most precious luxury is time. By offering guests a way to control time and make the most of it, we are helping to define the new ultimate luxury vacation experience.

Silversea has always held to the belief that no guest should be 'herded' through a pre-determined experience - onboard or on shore. As such, Silversea has attracted the most discriminating travelers seeking personally tailored vacation experiences. Looking forward, we are uniquely positioned to enhance the cruise industry with our Personalized Voyages concept by providing greater appeal to travelers who are increasingly looking for added
flexibility and control from their vacation.

There are still some other challenges facing the luxury cruise segment. For one, the luxury industry needs to aggressively attract customers who haven't cruised before. We need to consistently reinforce the notion that luxury cruise ships are not "floating retirement homes".

Luxury lines are doing a tremendous job of bringing new customers into the market place. Great strides have been made in making cruising appealing to a wider and younger audience. Today's luxury cruise ships now contain a dynamic mix of international passengers seeking the ultimate vacation experience.

Luxury cruise lines are also aggressively competing for and getting five-star hotel and resort customers. Luxury cruising is securing broader appeal and attracting sophisticated travelers who normally would vacation at renowned land-based resorts, hotels, or spas. In addition, the value that a luxury cruise still offers over traditional five-star hotels and resorts is great. Demand for luxury cruise lines will continue to increase as travelers seek alternatives or enhancements to luxury land-based vacation experiences.

In addition to dealing with new strains on "convenience", many luxury lines have adapted programs to entice customers who are still weary to travel. At Silversea, we recently extended our popular "Reassurance Program". For an additional fee over their regular insurance charges, guests get the freedom and convenience to change their travel plans at the last minute for any reason. The program responds well to a new world environment where consumers need to be in control for their piece of mind.

For added convenience, we also introduced a program that enables guests to embark and disembark with maximum flexibility. A nominal charge allows guests the option of boarding the ship as soon as possible, or remaining on board for a short time after their cruise has ended.

We want to ensure our guests enjoy a totally hassle-free vacation, so we're always exploring innovative ways to offer greater flexibility and convenience. The ability to provide a custom-tailored experience that meets and exceeds the guest's expectations is the hallmark of Silversea. We know that exceeding a guest's expectation means being sure to give them what they want.

In "popular" luxury, the formula is to offer a menu of various options and experiences and then hope that the guest can fulfill their needs through the "manufactured" options. It is easier to please someone when you give them what they want, rather than trying to force them to fit into what you have pre-arranged. With Silversea, the options are boundless.

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