Sovereign Insights – a series of fascinating, exclusive interviews with the senior executives of the luxury cruise lines. No one else in the luxury cruise industry asks such candid questions or gets such a personal insight into the personalities, thinking and plans of these very influential people.
1st May, 2014 – John Delaney – Senior Vice President, Marketing & Sales Seabourn
Interview by Stefan Shillito
I was thrilled that John agreed to be our first senior industry executive to come under the Sovereign Insight spotlight. He is a great friend of ours and has a real passion for Seabourn and its clientele. John is also a consummate Anglophile and loves his trips to London. He lives and works in Seattle, the global HQ for Seabourn.
We had planned to video the interview, but the restaurant was so noisy that we settled for a face to face note based interview, but none the less it gave a fascinating insight into John’s thinking and some great snippets of ideas that Seabourn have for their much anticipated new ship. The new ship will join the Seabourn fleet in summer 2016.
Stefan: As a former Holland America Line executive, what in your opinion are the major differences between premium cruise lines like HAL and Seabourn?
John: You know Stefan; I often get asked this question. I think that the best way to answer it is to use a hotel analogy.
Both cruise lines can be found in the greatest locations around the globe. However, the Seabourn brand is akin to the Four Seasons hotel brand with its immersive luxury service and exceptional ambiance. Holland America Line is more of a Westin hotel, appealing to a wider selection of people who enjoy quality. Also, just like a Westin, multi-generational holidays are great on Holland America Line, especially when using their Neptune Suites.
Stefan: How far out do you plan itineraries and what helps you to decide which ship to put on which itinerary and for how long?
John: We plan two years out, the reason that we do not plan further out is that consumers travel trends change, their “bucket lists” frequently alter. Burma is a good example, as is South Africa. Also, twice a year we go out with a guest destination survey to our valued past guests and we use that feedback to plan our future itineraries. Results of these surveys gave us the confidence to include Antarctica and the Philippines in our itinerary plans.
As to which ships we put on which itineraries, this dynamic is changing, having sold the three original Seabourn sisters. Their size sometimes affected the itineraries they could do and this is not so much of an issue now with our newer fleet. There is of course also a logical sequence of ship deployment as the ships move around the world. If the ship is in Australia, it makes sense to for it to do some Far East itineraries as it moves over for the summer season in Europe. Our new ship may well do our popular seven night Eastern Mediterranean itineraries.
Stefan: What input will your regular guests have in the planning of the on board features of your new ship?
John: They have already had an enormous amount of input via the feedback they have provided us on our Odyssey Class ships and as the old saying goes “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Also, we have broadened the guest survey on board. As a result, in the spa area, we are keen to increase the size of the gym which will be located at the very aft of the ship overlooking a deck and the wash of the ship. This allows extra space and an open feel. Another good example is that our Restaurant Two alternative dining area is a bit too popular, so the new build will have a larger alternative dining venue.
Stefan: There is a gap between the retirement of the last of the original Seabourn ships and the entry into service of the new ship, are you planning to retain these experienced staff and if so, how?
John: Yes, the same day we announced the sale of the original Seabourn ships, we wrote to all of our staff saying that they would all have a job in the future. All of our staff will work for our sister brands (HAL most likely) until the on board new build team is set up.
Stefan: Sovereign has a great partnership with Seabourn, how do you think our mutual guests benefit from that?
John: I think that our mutual guests benefit in three different ways.
First, Sovereign’s Seabourn knowledge and experience is wonderful and your team have incredible first-hand knowledge of all luxury cruise brands and this is critical to get clients on to the right ship for them. If this does not happen then they probably will not be giving luxury cruising a second chance.
Secondly, Sovereign has a great attention to detail, so there is a seamless luxury experience from the moment they call you right the way through to the on board experience.
Thirdly, both Seabourn and Sovereign have very high repeat client ratios, so there is a synergy there, based on our great relationship that is mutual beneficial.
Stefan: What do you personally enjoy about cruising on board Seabourn?
John: An easy answer, four letters “crew”. Our crew are unbelievable. I am always welcomed home, reminding me that our service is our strongest attribute. Of course we have great ships, but it is the crew that brings it all to life. I also love our space ratio and the design of our suites – it’s all so very comfortable.
Stefan: What is personal your favourite Seabourn service story?
John: There are so many, that it is hard to single one out, but I will try. I have just hosted eighty full world cruise guests, so I will give you an example from that, as it was just this week.
At the library at Ephesus, we did a superb full world cruise guest dinner, with great catering, all beautifully done with great regional foods. I sat next to a guest that has sailed for two thousand days on Seabourn and she has a favourite bread roll that she likes to have with dinner and as a surprise the team bought her some of these rolls from the ship. At the same event, we bought a superb beef dish from the ship for another client that we knew would not enjoy the fish orientated local menu. Both guests were delighted. It is all about anticipating the guest’s needs in advance.
Stefan: Which destinations are next on your own cruise list?
John: Antarctica, I really want to do this on the Seabourn Quest and in its first season down there it achieved our highest guest ratings ever, in the history of the whole company.
I also want to do South Africa, the great combination of the superb Seabourn service and the fantastic vineyard excursions really appeals to me.