Roberto Martinoli has been president and CEO of Silversea Cruises since 2016. We speak to Martinoli to find out more about how ultra-luxury cruise line is moving forward into a new era.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated adoption of e-commerce, yet most cruises are still sold by traditional travel agents. Do you expect this to change, and how can cruise lines update their digital platforms to help consumers feel more comfortable booking online?
Cruising and particularly the segment we are in is a little bit different than another type of vacation. The complexity for the proposition is such that it’s not so easy to make it something without the support of a travel advisor that would help you find the right product. With that said there are indeed people that want to book direct, and you need to make sure you satisfy the needs of these people. What we are doing — and this is more in terms of giving full transparency to people and because we have so many different products — we are working to make sure that we implement shortly an e-commerce platform so that people can access all of the information.
Before the end of the year, we’ll go out with a pricing structure that will be visible to passengers. The biggest component is a back-end price configurator. We have about 560 itineraries on sale at any given moment and if you add to that the combination of flights…it’s very diverse. You will see what you need to see to understand what options you have, what costs you have to pay. So it’s going to be extremely transparent for you. At the very beginning you won’t be able to transact in that, but you will see pricing and get the quote. And then the next step next year you’ll be able also, if you so wish, to do the transaction. It will also be a very powerful tool for travel agents to be able to access that without having to call our call centres.
Royal Caribbean Group had held a two-thirds share of Silversea Cruises since 2018, and last July, in the midst of the pandemic, it acquired the remaining shares to become the full owner of the line. How did that impact your ability to get through this crisis?
That’s been great support, undoubtedly, in every respect but especially in two areas. First financially, of course, to be part of a very large corporation is absolutely a game-changer, and their financial strength has been paramount for us to survive this very difficult situation.
And also operationally — they’ve been able to access expertise that if we were on our own we would never be able to access. The sail panel, the corporate structure, all of the departments we had available — they made a huge difference to us and they’ve been extremely supportive in helping us to navigate these unchartered waters.
Silversea took delivery of two new ships last year and will have another, the line’s tenth, launching this fall with two more in development. How are you incorporating technology into new ships?
We are already using technology quite extensively. All of our customers’ habits and needs and desires are recorded to make sure that we satisfy their needs without having to ask. So we made a big investment in our CRM system to make sure that our crew are getting the information out of that. In today’s world we are all desperately needing data, and we need to be disciplined in making sure that whatever decisions we make are supported by data. In order to do that you need to collect the right information, you need to be able to access the right information and you need to have that as the support in making every strategic decision — marketing, sales, product innovations and everything.
And we are using technology to enhance the personalisation of service. It is hugely present in the back end, but it is really not invasive. But once you have been on board once, the second time we already know what your favourite wine is, so as soon as you step on the ship that will be offered to you. You’ll find your Diet Coke in your refrigerator, your favourite bathroom amenities, your favourite pillow choice. We believe that luxury is about anticipating your future desires and of course it’s much easier to do that with a strong data structure that shows the preferences you had in the past.
The pandemic has caused some companies to allow their employees to work from anywhere, including Princess Cruises which is encouraging people to work and live on their ships. What are your thoughts on this concept?
If you think of the product that we have, the world cruise is a very good example, we have people staying four months on board. Our most loyal clients have spent onboard way more than 2,000 days. Teleworking was already in the DNA of our passengers. We have already gone to offering unlimited internet access with more than decent speed to our guests because it was a necessity. Our best clients are doing the world cruise for four months and then they spend another two months or a month here or there, so they do live and work from the ship.
Of course we have some challenges because of the variety of places we visit in the world, and the satellite service is not equal everywhere, so there are places we had to adapt and find alternative solutions. But if you come to a Silversea ship you would be able to be connected all the time with an included basic service that would allow you to do anything, not stream videos, but do all the rest. And for certain suites and for an additional charge you can access a more efficient service, and it is definitely something that is continuously evolving.
Silver Cloud will be sailing on an 11-day journey in December to witness a total solar eclipse expected to occur near the Antarctic Peninsula.
What is your strategy to attract new customers to Silversea? Is it from other luxury lines or more so people who are new to cruising?
Of course we don’t mind getting people from other cruise lines, they are most welcome to come with us and we have quite a few of those, but we also have quite many people that are new to cruising. One of the ways we get more of the new to cruising is through expeditions as an example because our expeditions are the bucket list destinations where the choice is not about cruising but it’s about going to Galapagos or going to the Kimberley Islands or going to Antarctica. And the people that are doing that have the opportunity to understand what cruising is about.
We visit many very remote and particular destinations and these indeed attract many, many people that wouldn’t be thinking of cruising otherwise. And because of the great product delivery we provide, once they are coming, we hook them in and they come back.
How are you addressing issues around sustainability, both in terms of overtourism in destinations and in operational areas such as fuel and energy consumption?
We are lucky enough to be small. So we are really the best option for a destination because not only are we small, but we also are carrying passengers that are a very affluent people and they are very well behaved and they spend a lot of money when they go to a destination. It makes us probably the most wanted client for a destination because we do not have all of the disadvantages of the big guys.
Also we are used to going to very sensitive areas — Antarctica, the Arctic, Papua New Guinea — we want to show our guests the real world. We are very respectful of what the local communities want to do and are willing to show to our clients. We have great relationships with our destinations, and they want us to come back again and again. I’m not saying we are better than anyone else, but by definition because we are small and because of the type of people we carry we definitely have a big advantage.
In terms of sustainability related to environment we’ve been doing all of the right things like everybody else. And we’ve been investing billions of dollars in new technology to make sure that we do what we need to do. I can say that there are certain standards for the discharge water from cruise ships that exceed standards for drinking water for some destinations. I don’t think there is any doubt that we have right now the best technology that is available.
With that said, stay tuned because we are building a new class of ships in Germany — the first ship coming out in 2023 where there will be groundbreaking news about sustainability for the systems on board... like dynamic positioning so you don’t have to drop anchor to upset the sea bed, the waste water treatment is unbelievable, doesn’t produce anything, what goes out is impeccable. I can’t wait to be able to tell you more about it, and it will come soon.
This is a shorter version of the story first published on PhocusWire.