Cathy Wagstaff, CEO & Group Editor of Signature Media, caught up with Steve Odell, SVP & Managing Director Asia Pacific at Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings, ahead of boarding the second-ever voyage of Seven Seas Explorer, the newest ship for NCL’s Regent Seven Seas Cruises. They chat about his career, the cruise industry and the destinations he most wants to tick off his bucket list.
- What attracted you to this industry?
It goes back a long way. I’ve worked in the cruise industry for 30 years. I grew up in the south of the United Kingdom, next to Southampton, which was the home of ocean liners and I think from when I started walking, I saw cruise ships passing by the window of my house and it always appealed to me. When I went to university … I had to spend a year of my four years out working in business. We had a great tourism school in my university and they found me a working assignment for P&O Cruises in London. So I started there and when I graduated at the end of my course, they offered me a full-time job.
- What are the highlights of your career?
I have to say that one of the highlights was very recently when we had the christening of the [Regent Seven Seas Cruises ship] Seven Seas Explorer in Monaco. I think that was one of the most spectacular things that I’ve been associated with. We had a concert with Andrea Bocelli for 40 minutes and Her Serene Highness Princess Charlene of Monaco was the godmother. I must say it was one of the most special things I’ve done. If I look at it in a more practical sense, I think that coming to Australia in 2001 to do the start-up for my last company, Silversea, was one of my greatest challenges and one of the things I enjoyed most because I took a market of nothing and created an office and a team of people and we became a huge business in 10 years.
- How do you personally define luxury?
That can be answered in many ways, but I think true luxury is about having what you want, when you want it. It’s about the word ‘no’ not existing. It’s about, “I can try and help you do this”. It’s about responsiveness. I think it’s really about making people feel very special and for them to be treated as an individual.
- How have you seen the luxury end of the market change over the last few years?
I think the basics are still there. I think what has changed is lifestyle. With that comes all sorts of things like technology. Things happen faster, more choices. In our case, it’s more dining choices because people don’t want to go to the same restaurant every night. Maybe 15 years ago, you could do that, but now you’ve got to offer a lot of choices because people want that.
I think technology is particularly important. The fact that you carry a mobile phone and you want to dock it somewhere to play music. The consumer today – they want to have it and they want to have it now. And you also want to have the kind of comfort when you travel that you have in your own home. Luxury has to keep up with technology, changing tastes.
The other thing that is important is being health conscious. Once upon a time, you went on a trip and ate what you want, but today you want to keep healthy and fit. You want to enjoy yourself, but you have to be conscious of those things. So I think the luxury business has to adapt quite a lot in the last 10 years particularly to changing trends.
- Talking about technology, what about Wi-Fi? That’s always been a bit of a challenge on a cruise ship.
The cruise industry is a bit behind the hotel industry on internet but we’ve just introduced free Wi-Fi on the ships from April. We had to first upgrade all the systems because the problem we anticipated was overload, because if everybody is using it all at once, that would just slow down the servers so we had to upgrade everything before we introduced it.
For me, it [Wi-Fi] is the norm now. It’s been the norm in Asia for a long time. I think America’s caught up and Europe’s slowly catching up. It was seen as a revenue stream for a long time but when you look at it, it’s actually a very low-cost item to include for people.
- What else makes Explorer unique?
What I like about it, if I could say it in a few words, it was not like stepping into a ship at all. It was like stepping into a nice home because the walls are covered in beautiful art and you’ve got lots of cosy corners, fantastically comfortable furniture, beautiful colours, rugs, a lot of marble… it’s actually like stepping into a very luxurious home, rather than stepping into a cruise ship. It’s a new generation of luxury. I think it’s totally a game-changer.
- What would be your top tips for luxury cruisers?
I think that it’s very important as a consumer that you are matched with the right experience and there are lots of different experiences. The first thing I would say is to think about what you like, think about the kind of hotel experience you like – do you like a big hotel experience with a suite so that you can enjoy your big suite and then enjoy the whole big town or do you like more intimate experiences? Do you like to be very sociable or do you prefer to be quite private? There’s a match of cruise ship to every hotel experience.
- What kind of cruise passenger are you?
I think I would define myself in two ways. I like the smaller luxury ships like the Regent ships because I tend to be a bit more private when I travel on my holidays. I also like expeditions. The great thing about expedition is where you go. I went to the Arctic and we were a small ship and we didn’t see another ship for 10 days, that was an incredible experience. We walked on glaciers, we saw whales, we saw polar bears, but we didn’t see another ship or another human being. And for me, exploring areas of the world that are that remote is a really interesting way to travel. And there are companies now like Scenic, for example, who are getting into that with this super new yacht that they’re building. Silversea has some great expedition products: Galapagos, the South Pacific. For me, I think it’s still a bit about the unusual. It’s a very different type of customer though – because you’re not getting that level of luxury.
- What would be the top three things on your bucket list?
South America because I haven’t been there at all yet in my travels and I do travel extensively. I think that’s probably a couple of trips because there’s Patagonia in the south and Antarctica and there’s also Peru and Ecuador… I’d like to go Machu Picchu. The other thing I’d really like to do would be that train that goes from Beijing to Mongolia and goes up to Tibet.
- What’s your favourite coffee?
I learnt this from my big boss at Silversea… you never drink coffee with milk after 10 in the morning. So before 10, I’m a latte and after 10, I’m an espresso. That’s the Italian way.