PHOTO: Rendering of Scenic's new riverboat culinary center. (Photo courtesy of Scenic Luxury Tours & Cruises)
While at Seatrade Cruise Global, I had the opportunity to chat with Joni L. Rein, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, USA for Scenic Luxury Tours & Cruises and Lisa Norton, Vice President Brand Management, N.A. for Emerald Waterways about the current outlook and future of the two brands.
Rein started out by sharing, “It’s all about us right now in the family. For about three years we’ve been selling in the US market, so not for all that long, and we’ve sold the Scenic river cruises as well as our sister Emerald as she came online in 2014. We made the decision based on the success of that to move forward and really expand and grow in the marketplace.
"So, we’re restructuring. We’ve got a lot going on. We’re hiring a lot of people, but at the end of the day, the message is we will be selling the Scenic family of brands. Whereas we were once all siloed, we now will offer all four of the brands.
“So, there’s the Scenic river cruise. There’s Emerald Waterways. We've got the Scenic Eclipse, … and then we will be the last of our markets to actually sell the Scenic tours which were the original, our humble beginnings. We sell them worldwide today and the products are worldwide, but we’ve not actually sold them in the US market before. But we decided with the commitment to invest in the market that we would offer all products. So, a lot of fun.”
Specific to cruising, Rein added, “We actually just became global members of CLIA, which is very powerful to be able to get in front of our travel agent partners and be able to do wonderful things with the CLIA brand. So, we’re excited. We feel like we’ve grown up.”
When asked if the brands joining forces was a means of encouraging land tours tacked onto cruises and vice versa, Rein confirmed:
“Exactly … Our demographic is interesting coming from ocean cruising when I look at who our target market is. The vast majority of them are coming from land, and there’s a natural progression when you start just doing the tours and then go to river and then go to [the ocean] Eclipse.
“But when I describe our brand, the Scenic luxury cruise, I would put in the Four Seasons category. And yet the Emerald is in the W category, which kind of use[s] a land comparison because it’s a truer comparison of where our guests are being sourced.”
READ MORE: Scenic Further Details New Scenic Eclipse Ocean Yacht
On the Emerald Waterways side of the coin, Norton explained, “Emerald Waterways came into being after Glen Moroney launched Scenic luxury cruises. He felt he was in a great place that knew how to sell, and it was selling well. But he was missing a nice section of the marketplace, so then we decided to build new ships.
"He built two new ships, and then he bought an organization to put around it. And that’s how we were launched in 2014. In that year, we received the Cruise Critic editor’s award for best new river ship for some of the innovations that we have onboard our ships.”
One of those innovations is taking cabin interiors entirely to the edge of the ship rail, with a window that slides down to become a balcony railing. Interestingly, Celebrity Cruises just unveiled that it will be introducing a nearly identical design concept to its upcoming new Celebrity Edge ocean ship.
After I briefly mentioned the design adoption, Rein responded, “It’s a form of flattery, though, seriously, to take those concepts, that innovation, and move them across brands like that.”
“So, the other thing that we have onboard that I like to brag about is our indoor/outdoor swimming pool,” Norton continued.
“It’s on the back of the ship. It’s got the retractable roof so you can take advantage of it no matter the weather. [It’s] also a nice peaceful place to go and sit, relax, read your paper, grab a coffee, have a drink down there. And then that converts into a cinema in the evening. You drain the water out. The floor comes up, and [they] dry it off and pull in the nice comfy seats. That’s one of the unique things that we have onboard the ship.”
Emerald touted a fleet of four riverboats in 2016 and is introducing another three for 2017. One will be another Space-Ship, sailing along the Rhine, Main and Danube. A second will be a smaller, 138-guest version called the Emerald Liberte on the Rhone & Saone.
A third will be the even smaller 112-passenger Emerald Radiance in Portugal.
While the size is necessary on the latter due to clearances, Norton admitted, “Portugal has been wildly popular, so I wish I had an 182-passenger ship for the Douro because we certainly could’ve filled it and then some. So, we’re really excited about how much we’re growing and how much more of the market share for Emerald the US is now actually delivering. Each yea,r we grab about another 5 percent of the market share and same thing with our Canadian market as well.”
I was also curious about the balance that exists between the two main brands in North America, and so Rein broke it down:
“The Canadian market is a more mature market, so their business for Scenic has far more traction than it does in the US. Conversely, … the attraction and the sales are almost equal [in the US].”
READ MORE: Emerald Waterways Awaits a Near Doubling of Its Fleet in 2017
Larger than the Emerald Waterways fleet, Scenic has 16 riverboats. And they continue to up the ante.
“We’ve rebuilt the two ships in France,” said Rein. “We’ve added a culinary program. It’s pretty slick. We’ve reduced the number of cabins, and then we’ve added space and enlarged our wellness center.”
By removing eight staterooms, a newly installed culinary center—the first dedicated facility of its kind on a river cruise—will be available to 10 participants at a time beginning this season.
Guests need only sign up for the inclusive experience of being instructed by a chef along the counter of cooking stations. To accommodate as many people who are interested, the opportunity will be scheduled as frequently as possible.
Rein continued, “It’s really part of our heritage and Glen’s philosophy. It’s not necessarily: build more. It’s: innovate. Innovate with your current fleet, and then if you’ve done all that you can, then you add a ship. And so he continues to go back and retrofit all of the ships, and this reinvestment on a very young ship to me is very impressive coming from ocean. It’s not heard of.”
Besides the 16 riverboats, Scenic is also building its first ocean expedition ship, the Scenic Eclipse, with two helicopters and a submarine onboard.
They are still working out how and when the in-the-sky and below-the-surface experiences will be reservable by future guests, but they will not be priced exorbitantly—not to make money but only recover costs.
“She’s definitely scheduled to be delivered and be extraordinary. A lot of different changes have been made to her,” Rein said of Eclipse. “I like to say pencils down now. … You can’t make dramatic changes or structural changes, but the interiors will probably be refined and tweaked until right up until she sails away because that’s just kind of the Scenic hallmark trait.”
Meanwhile, Scenic and Emerald are doing well from a travel professional and sales standpoint.
Rein added, “[Eclipse has] been selling beautifully. The selling pace has been really strong, mostly from our loyalists, which is typically how the products have actually all matured that way. First, it’s the loyalists that are first season for everything, but she’s well passed 65 percent sold with very little marketing.
"There [was] the huge media push when she was first announced, and I think we'll do another push with here’s what she looks like now. And then I think that will take care of the balance of the inventory that’s remaining [for] the first season.”
Rein concluded, “For our travel partners, we think there’s a lot of opportunity being very involved in educating and supporting them in selling luxury and selling river cruises. So, we’ll be pretty much out and about and adding more business development managers, getting engaged wherever we can on webinars.
"We have the Scenic hub which is coming out later on this year, which is where our travel agents can create marketing collateral and sort of their place for all assets for both Scenic as well as for Emerald. We have a travel agent advisory board that we’re going to announce in the summer, and then I think our travel agent reward program for selling, getting credit for being a loyalist to all of our brands, will be a very important component as well.”