MSC Group’s new cruise line Explora Journeys has its eyes fixed on non-traditional markets in a move to expand the scope of the ultra-luxury segment. Those markets include new-to-cruising audiences as well as the yet-to-be fully-tapped European market, says Chief Sales Officer, Chris Austin.
Speaking exclusively with LATTE this week aboard EXPLORA I, Austin said Explora Journeys is bringing the average age of the luxury cruise traveller down due to the guest experience being delivered onboard. Clearly, and cleverly, pitched at the affluent middle-aged market in their 50s seeking an extravagant hotel experience on the sea, Austin said Explora Journeys wants to lure “luxury landlubbers” to the brand.
“People who take plenty of holidays, spend a lot of money, and have never thought of doing a cruise,” is a major objective of the line.
Based on very preliminary data – as the first ship in the fleet of six, EXPLORA I, has only been in operation for 2.5 months – Explora Journeys is pulling guests from traditional luxury competitors (Silversea, Regent Seven Seas and Seabourn), as well as premium cruise operators offering a luxurious ‘ship within a ship’ product, and wants to appeal to ‘hotel loyalists’.
“We definitely want to welcome loyalists of the ocean, frequently called repeat cruisers, and those which want to experience the new brand,” Austin said.
“We’re heavily targeting new to ocean – luxury landlubbers – people who take plenty of holidays, spend a lot of money, and have never thought of doing a cruise partly because of the myth about cruising.”
Austin said traditional source markets are very strong. That includes the US, Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand. The take-up by the new-to-cruise segment is around 10%, but expected to raise significantly as Explora Journeys continues to carve out its own niche.
European luxury cruise market untapped
“Our real opportunity is Europe because we’re a European brand,” Austin explained to LATTE. Explora Journeys is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland.
“The MSC Group and MSC Cruises, the contemporary sister-brand, has an incredible reputation in Europe, and for that very reason, we’re forecasting we should have a nice balance between mature markets and Europe.”
“No luxury cruise brand has ever penetrated Europe well,” Austin said.
“One of the reasons is because Hapag-Lloyd Cruises does an incredibly good job with the German market. Ponant – which isn’t a luxury brand but is exceptional – do a great job with the French market.
“So what’s happened with the other traditional luxury brands (Seabourn, Silversea, Regent, Crystal, etc) is that they have lowish penetration because they are American and deliver an American product and American experience.”
“We have an opportunity that nobody else has ever had and we are seeing that coming through.”
“This blend of guests, when you think of Europe, is a patchwork quilt of languages and cultures. And when I look at booking reports and can count people from 30 countries from around the world, that actually enhances the guest experience on the ship because people want to travel with like-minded people from different parts of the world, because they find it interesting and there’s more engaging storytelling,” Austin said.
Where are guests coming from?
Beyond traditional luxury cruise brands, Explora Journeys is sourcing guests from the five-star product offering of premium cruise brands, such as MSC Cruises’ MSC Yacht Club, Celebrity Cruises’ Retreat, and Norwegian Cruise Line’s Haven.
To amplify its interest from the luxury hotel loyalist, Explora Journeys is offering a status match with competing cruise lines as well as luxury hotel loyalty programs, including those of Accor, Marriott, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental and IHG – as previously reported by LATTE.
Another channel for Explora Journeys is converting the luxury river cruise client to ocean, with the Miami-based cruise executive saying the “paradigms are very similar” to ocean.
“Our goal is to start at a reasonable pricing and then move it up. Not to start high and move it down as that doesn’t provide price integrity at all. Definitely, the value is there for early bookers,” he said.
Lead image: Chris Austin, Chief Sales Officer, Explora Journeys