Azamara is likely to reveal its next stage of fleet expansion before the end of the calendar year, ahead of the launch of an all-new reservation system that will eliminate guest leakage to ex-Royal Caribbean sister brands.
With a fleet now comprised of four sister-ships – Azamara Journey, Azamara Quest, Azamara Pursuit and the latest addition, Azamara Onward – it’s no secret that the small-ship cruise line has plans to expand its operation with further vessels.
Aboard last week’s pre-inaugural sailing on Azamara Onward from Barcelona to Monte Carlo, Azamara’s President, Carol Cabezas, was questioned frequently by global media as to the next stage of growth.
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“Our long-term strategy is absolutely to grow the fleet and that can happen in different ways,” she said.
In reference to the newly christened Azamara Onward, she said “we have been heads down focussed on getting this wonderful ship up and ready, at the same time we are working on our plans for the future.”
Cabezas said Azamara’s owners, Sycamore Partners, were “extremely supportive” of investing in and growing the brand which was formerly under the tri-brands of Royal Caribbean Group, alongside Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises.
Speaking with LATTE aboard Onward, Cabezas revealed Sycamore Partners had acquired the former Pacific Princess as a “gift” for the company at the same time it closed on the US$201 million transaction to buy the boutique line from Royal Caribbean – a sign of the confidence Sycamore had in the brand from the outset. (The formal announcement on the purchase of Pacific Princess was delayed a week after the new owners were revealed, to extend excitement under the new owners).
In a media briefing on the ship last week, Cabezas said investors are “extremely supportive” and “absolutely focused on growing the brand” and were keen to “have more of this product”.
While remaining tight-lipped on what specific form the next stage of expansion might comprise – either new-builds or acquisitions – Cabezas had stated having a fleet of the same Renaissance (‘R’) class ships did have “tremendous benefits”, making it easier for travel partners to understand and to sell.
Among Azamara’s key priorities over the next 12 months is technology. While an independent brand for just over 12 months, Azmara still taps into the reservation system of its former owner, Royal Caribbean. As LATTE experienced firsthand, that means when closing out of an Azamara booking the customer is pitched to consider future reservations with either Azamara, Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruises.
“We are working feverishly to establish our own systems,” Cabezas said. “The problem is it’s almost like a start-up except we have an established brand, we have a customer base, we have a well-known story. But we don’t have an accounts department, no IT department, no legal – all these back of house type functions were typically done by Royal Caribbean and so we’ve been through this whole year developing all-new technology for every aspect of the business, and we’ve made a lot of headway.
“But the big project is the reservation system and that’s what we’re working on now. But it will be great. We’ll have new systems with far more capability than we have today,” Cabezas said.
She said the new res-system would likely be completed by the end of the year, and officially running by March 2023 – the two-year milestone when the contract between the former sister-brands concludes.
Questioned by LATTE if river cruising was a potential corridor for growth at Azamara, Cabezas admitted “we’ve thought about it.
“[River] is something we’d consider but I don’t think it would be something we’d delve into right now.”
She said that with the effort it’s taken to get Azamara Onward up and running, now wouldn’t be the right time.
Pressed as to when Azamara would be ready to disclose its next phase of growth, Cabezas confirmed it would be before the end of 2022.
While onboard, Cabezas also highlighted that the UK market was “leading the charge” in terms of new bookings, to the point where sales are exceeding pre-COVID demand. She said the Australian market remains “a little bit softer” citing the country’s protocols and regulations. But said close to home sales in late 2022 were doing “really, really well”. The North America market was in “fits and starts”, as that audience reacts to the news of the day.
Travel agents core
Azamara’s President was adamant that the travel trade will continue to be the “dominate part of sourcing” for the cruise line.
“Our travel partners have been extraordinary in introducing guests to our brand. We recognise that and we also know they work tirelessly to know that their guests have a wonderful experience, so we’ll continue to support and rely on our travel partners to be the major souring of our guests,” she said.
Cabezas said demand was strong for Azamara’s Country Intensive itineraries, which was an easy pivot during COVID as the program had been used previously.
“At the start of the return [to cruising post COVID], we found it was a little bit of a challenge visiting multiple countries and so it was easier for Azamara, and guests, to concentrate in one area. We focused a lot on Greece, the Canaries, so going in that direction was very helpful.”
Other ‘Intensive’ destinations for Azamara include Croatia and Italy, while Azamara’s ‘Islands of the Mediterranean’ voyage between Rome and Barcelona, island hopping to destinations including Malta, Sicily, Corsica and Majorca. That itinerary will return later this year, and again in 2023 and 2024 such is its popularity.