Last updated: 01:50 PM ET, Tue March 03 2015

Crystal Cruises COO: New Ships, No Cutbacks

Cruise Line & Cruise Ship | Crystal Cruises | Theresa Norton | March 03, 2015

Crystal Cruises COO: New Ships, No Cutbacks

PHOTO: Crystal Cruises COO Edie Rodriguez, center, sees smooth sailing ahead under new ownership. (Courtesy of Crystal Cruises)

The pending sale of Crystal Cruises to deep-pocketed Genting Hong Kong means new ships, growth and a new era for the luxury line that is the “crème de la crème and Rolls-Royce of the travel industry,” according to President and COO Edie Rodriguez.

A new ship will arrive by 2018, the company headquarters will stay in Los Angeles, and the management team will remain in place, she said.

“One-hundred percent, there will be no cutbacks; there will in fact be growth,” Rodriguez said. “There will be 50 percent more business, which is a growth opportunity for employees and team members. There will be no cutbacks and nobody will be laid off or let go. It just means a fantastic, phenomenal opportunity for the future of Crystal Cruises.”

Crystal’s current owner, Tokyo-based NYK, wanted to focus on its core cargo shipping business and found the time was right to sell the profitable luxury cruise line.

“Genting is a phenomenal company that is publically traded, very well-funded and very, very supportive,” Rodriguez said. “We talked about our visions for Crystal and found a lot of synergies. We shared the same vision, which is a home run for Crystal Cruises.”

Rodriguez said she couldn’t share details about the newbuild other to say that it is expected to enter service in 2018. “There’s nothing we can share until the deal closes,” she said. “It’s safe to say no later than 2018, and from my perspective, the sooner the better.”

Since joining Crystal in late 2013, Rodriguez has often said her goal is to operate “seven ships for seven continents,” a vision she shared with Genting Hong Kong. “They know that and they hear me like a broken record,” she said. “But one ship at a time, and I will continue to push my vision to them.”

Genting Hong Kong owns about a quarter of Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, which in turn owns Regent Seven Seas Cruises, a competitor of Crystal. There will be no overlap or conflicts, Rodriguez said.

“We will continue to operate completely independently, just as we are today,” she said. “They are good competitors, and we wish them well.”

“Just as we have always been, our support of travel agents will continue in the future. My message to our great travel agent professional partners is to keep booking Crystal Cruises and thank you for the partnership.” - Edie Rodriguez, COO, Crystal Cruises

Rodriguez did emphasize that Crystal’s close relationship with travel agents will continue unabated. “A big, big thank you to the travel agent community,” she said. “Just as we have always been, our support of travel agents will continue in the future. My message to our great travel agent professional partners is to keep booking Crystal Cruises and thank you for the partnership.”

Rodriguez’ assurances likely will go far to ease concerns on the part of travel agents.

“New owners always sound glamorous in the beginning and then when the reality hits you take a step back,” said Steve Shulem, owner of Strictly Vacations in Santa Barbara, Calif., and a long-time top producer for Crystal. “There is so much unknown right now. Consolidation? Cutbacks? New staff?”

That said, Shulem eagerly awaits a new Crystal ship, since it's been 12 years since the Crystal Serenity entered service; the Crystal Symphony is 20 years old.

“Something needed to happen to get those guys back on the top again with respect to hardware,” he said. “So I am extremely excited about the infusion of cash so they can build some new ships. I know it’s a few years away but it will be well worth the wait.”

Agreeing is Ruth Turpin, owner of Cruises Etc., in Fort Worth, Texas, and another top Crystal producer.

“My thoughts are that this is great, because it will give Crystal a new chance to move forward with a new ship which they badly need,” she said. “They have so many loyal Crystal Society members who have been asking for a new ship and more choices. My hope is that Genting Hong Kong will be a company that will encourage Crystal to do what they do best and that is deliver the very best of service, entertainment and food. I hope they will make no changes in the staff and management both at sea and on land, because they are now delivering a fabulous product. Don’t mess with what is working so very well.”

Also weighing in was financial analyst Robin M. Farley of UBS Investment Research, who said the purchase could strengthen the luxury cruise segment.

“Some may question if there is a conflict of interest with one of NCLH’s largest owners now owning a small competitor to its Regent brand,” she wrote. “But we believe Crystal was known to be for sale and others in the industry may have had the opportunity to consider a purchase of the brand.

“We believe it will also make for a healthier competitive environment to now have three of the four luxury brands owned by public companies that view such assets as a business that needs to make money rather than a trophy property,” Farley wrote. “That is also marginally positive for Carnival Corp., whose Seabourn brand is one of the industry’s four luxury brands.” Silversea Cruises remains privately owned.

She also wondered if Genting is eyeing the Chinese market. “If Genting were to target the luxury brand to the Chinese market, for example, that could eventually help pave the way for other luxury brands in the Chinese market, also a potential positive for NCLH’s Regent brand and Carnival Corp.’s Seabourn brand,” Farley wrote.

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