Changing the Game: One on One with Crystal's Edie Rodriguez
On Sunday, July 19, Edie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Crystal Cruises, unveiled plans for a major brand expansion to Crystal Society passengers aboard Crystal Serenity. That expansion, arguably the largest in history for any luxury brand, will add three new 1,000-passenger, 100,000-GRT ships staring in 2018, including 48 residences; two river ships in Europe starting in 2017; a new luxury yacht, Crystal Esprit, which will begin cruises this December; and a Boeing 787 luxury aircraft featuring 28-day round-the-world tours for just 60 people.
I spoke with Rodriquez earlier today on a ship-to-shore call from Crystal Serenity to get more details on this massive growth plan that goes far beyond just luxury cruising.
TravelPulse: You say this is the most significant expansion in the history of luxury travel and hospitality? Why is that and what can you compare it to, if anything?
Edie Rodriguez: If you look at luxury lifestyles and at any luxury brand, whether it’s Four Seasons, Ritz-Carlton, and some prestigious luxury brands that I certainly support and admire, to my knowledge I don’t know any luxury brand that has expanded in the hospitality industry like this. Nobody is making the multi-billion-dollar investment that we are making. We are very proud to be so game changing.
TP: What are the challenges in turning a highly regarded luxury cruise line into a major luxury hospitality brand?
ER: Obviously it boils down to the people and the service delivery. First you need the financial backing that we have been so graciously given by our very visionary chairman [Tan Sri Lim Kok of Crystal parent Genting]. I’m very appreciative and thankful for that. During my 34-year career, I’ve seen companies grow, but the real foundation is to never lose sight of the core, so as we keep growing.
I’ve been authorized to man-up appropriately from a headcount standpoint, which I will do. And what I say to everyone is we can never take our eye off the ball. By that I mean the service we are delivering today on Crystal Serenity and Symphony. I’m also delighted that I have the right executive management team in place to take us where I need us to go.
I’m sure everyone was saying, ‘Why is she hiring all those people? She only has two ships.’ Well, I wasn’t at liberty to disclose the master plan. But now all has been revealed. And I hope you can see why I have put together the executive management team that I have.
TP: For the new yacht product on Crystal Esprit, how will the experience onboard differ from Crystal cruise ships if at all? And do you plan to build other yachts?
ER: She’s gorgeous and she’s already built. Our parent company Genting owned a yacht called the Taurus. I had the pleasure of going on it in Asia a few months ago, knowing we were going to be getting it. She was stunning as is, but we had to really redo her in the Crystal style.
She is being refitted as we speak to be delivered to us on time for our first revenue sailing in the Seychelles on Dec. 23 this year. Guests will get the same Crystal service they get today, but it will differ slightly in that this vessel has a marina, zodiacs, a submarine and more. And yes, we do plans to add more yachts, though I’m not at liberty to expound beyond that.
TP: Why are you entering the river cruise business now? And how many ships will debut in 2017 and where are they being built?
ER: Well, in everything we do, there’s always a method to the madness. The core basis for our strategy is all predicated on reading every guest comment and survey of our Crystal Society members. They were the ones who told us they wanted to experience the river sector and they want to experience it in the Crystal style. So we’re delighted to deliver that to them.
There will be two river ships introduced in 2017. I’m not able to disclose anything more on that at this point because I just don’t want to give away too much competitive information. But they will be two newbuilds designed exclusively for Crystal River Cruises and they will feature itineraries in Europe.
TP: Why go into the airline business with this new luxury 787? Is this only for a round-the-world tour?
ER: Many of our guests told us they wanted to see the world in 30 days or less, so 28 days or four weeks is the magic number. They want to experience these types of trips, and they want to do it in the Crystal style. We will accommodate that for them. Our tour will be for just 60 guests on a Boeing Dreamliner that would normally hold 300 passengers. It will feature flatbed seats, lounges and a lot of other accouterments in the flight cabin. It will just be spectacular. We will own this aircraft and it will totally be outfitted in the Crystal style.
You will be able to combine and totally customize your Crystal Exclusive Class vacation experience. You may go on Crystal Luxury Air for a 28-day itinerary, then fly commercially from wherever that trip ended to the Seychelles to pick up the Crystal Esprit. From there you might fly to Europe to pick up the river ship, and from there fly to Ushuaia for a cruise to Antarctica on one of our new Crystal ships. Depending on your time and budget, the world is literally your Crystal oyster, if you will.
TP: For the new Crystal Exclusive Class, are these three ships in addition to the one you already announced?
ER: It’s all part of the whole building program. When our deal to be acquired by Genting was consummated in May, we announced that we would have one new ship. We will now have three new ships. They will be triplets, if you will, as a new polar-class of Crystal Exclusive Class vessels. The first one will debut in 2018, but there is no schedule for the remaining two. But I would say they would probably come out in 2019, 2020 and beyond.
TP: Does this mean you will retire or sell your existing two ships?
ER: Well, it’s not our intention though obviously all ships age out eventually. We will have to see in the progression, and as we take delivery of the new ships, at that point we will reevaluate. We will figure that out as we move forward.
TP: What itineraries will these ships feature? Obviously with polar ice capability they can now visit the Arctic and Antarctic, but where else do are you planning to go that you currently don't go?
ER: Well certainly a big part of our experience is the itineraries we offer. Today we are a global brand experience and we have itineraries that go around the world that do all seven seas and all seven continents. It will just be a continuation of that, but done a little differently.
For example, next August when we do the Northwest Passage cruise we need to have an escort vessel to carry the zodiacs. If we choose to do that again in the future with our newbuild ship comes, it would have the zodiacs onboard already. Today we go to Antarctica, but we just cruise by and you can’t actually get off in a zodiac and touch your toe on that seventh continent. Tomorrow with the polar-class ships you will. It will allow us to incorporate into our already global itinerary an expedition experience when the itinerary justifies it.
TP: You will have new oceangoing ships, river ships, a yacht and a luxury aircraft. The only thing missing is resorts. Are you going to have a Crystal resort concept?
ER: First of all, the answer to that question, as I said last night in my speech, is stand by because we’ll have more announcements coming in the future. And the future is very bright when your goal is to be the world’s premier luxury lifestyle brand experience. In that genre, I’ll just leave it that is there is more to come, so stand by for even more exciting announcements from Crystal Cruises.
More by James Shillinglaw
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