In July, Crystal River Cruises debuted Crystal Mozart in Vienna, the first of seven river vessels to enter the fleet over the next several years. Crystal’s entry into the riverboat arena is part of the line’s formidable expansion, which also includes the addition of new ocean-going ships, private jets and luxury yachts.
We caught up with Crystal Cruises President and CEO Edie Rodriguez to discuss how Crystal Mozart is faring, the ways in which Crystal River Cruises distinguishes itself from the competition, and how – and why – you would be well served to turn your focus to selling the company’s growing number of luxury products.
What has the reception been to Crystal Mozart’s debut?
It’s incredible. About 50 percent of Crystal Mozart’s guests are new to Crystal, and the general consensus there is that they’re loving it. And Crystal’s past guests really feel like it’s a Crystal experience but in a riverboat.
Is there anything in particular about the vessel that’s creating a buzz?
Well, clearly the technology in the suites – where everything can be managed on an iPad – is creating a sensation. And I think the TOTO toilets and the Wider boats are also a big hit. Everything has just been so well received. It’s been an unbelievable home run and we are very happy – but perhaps even more importantly, our guests are very happy.
What are the guest demographics for Crystal River Cruises?
The 50 percent of guests who are new to Crystal are about 10 years younger than the typical Crystal guest. As I always say – this isn’t your grandparents’ river cruise experience. We’re really attracting everything from couples to families with children of all ages. Although we obviously don’t have children’s programs on board we’re in port every day visiting fabulous places, so it’s very educational for families.
What are the key points that distinguish Crystal River Cruises from the competition?
I truly don’tsee any existing riverboat company as competition. The reason I say that is because although they all deliver lovely experiences, they are not true ultra-luxury. What makes Crystal different? As an example, let’s just start with the food. With us it’s true open dining, true à la minute farm-to-table cooking and lots of options with four dining venues – which is really unheard of on the rivers. Nobody else is doing that.
There’s also the technology in the suites along with 24-hour butler service and 24-hour room service. These are key hallmarks of true luxury – and we’re delivering that.
READ MORE: What's Next for Crystal Cruises?
We take our guests on exclusive, experiential shore excursions – whether it’s a private concert at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna, or dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant that we’ve booked out. These are all included in the experience. And of course, we also have the Wider boats [yacht-like luxury tenders], where people are going on romantic rendezvous and champagne excursions further up the river.
We also include airport transfers whether the guests have booked air with us or not. Guests will never need to wait more than 15 minutes. If they do, we’ll send them off in a private car.
How important are travel agents to Crystal?
Over 90 percent of our business comes from travel agents. They’re very important to Crystal. It is a partnership. We have a myriad of brand experiences to articulate to their clients who they entrust to become our guests and we’ve always had a very, very symbiotic relationship with travel agents. We really embrace our travel agent partners and I appreciate every booking they bring to us.
What tips do you have for agents who either want to begin selling Crystal or increase their share of Crystal bookings?
First and foremost I would strongly suggest that they reach out to their strategic business development managers. They are out in the field across the country and the world, really to help empower agents by educating them in more micro detail about each of our brand experiences.
I would encourage agents to sail with us. We have great agent rates, and agents need to experience Crystal so that they can be better informed when they’re actually selling us. They really need to get on board and sell us, because this is an annuity – it’s the gift that keeps on giving. Guest satisfaction is so high with our brand that agents who are not selling us are missing an opportunity to make more money and have clients for life who will love them for putting them on Crystal.
You started your travel industry career as an agent. What kind of insight has that given you in your dealings with agents?
It’s been a tremendous help in my career because it’s a great foundation. When I say I understand what they’re going through – I get it. It’s not an easy job. I can definitely speak their language and I definitely understand their challenges. And so that’s why we try to be as easy to do business with and as agent friendly as possible.