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Seabourn Returns To Safe Travel Without Sacrificing Service Or Luxuries

By News Creatives Authors , in Leadership , at November 19, 2021

As hotels and resorts use Covid related challenges and health safety as reasons for cutting the services and amenities they offer guests, a high-end cruise line says it’s providing more luxuries than before the pandemic. It’s doing so, all while protecting its well-heeled customers by exceeding protocols found on land.

Josh Leibowitz, the president of Seabourn Cruise Line, a unit of Carnival Corporation & plc, told reporters aboard MV Seabourn Ovation, docked in Miami, “We want you to feel at least as safe as Main Street and maybe even better. Our Covid rates in the (cruise) industry are lower and there’s more testing. Having testing and vaccines is a really good combination.”

Seabourn requires all passengers and crew members to be vaccinated and tested prior to boarding. When crew members join, they quarantine for seven days with pay. They stay in suites normally occupied by guests and are provided with Internet and movies while they are insolation. After that, they are tested regularly. Add to that, Seabourn complies with the rules of the countries its ships visit.

“There’s no such thing as Covid zero. If you are going to live your life now, you’re going to follow recommendations for vaccinations by CDC and other authorities…and take whatever precautions you can take, whether that’s masks or social distancing. If you compare this environment to any other in travel, it’s by far the most controlled environment,” according to the executive.

He continued, “Having been in the past six months to a dozen luxury hotels, you don’t know who’s vaccinated and not. All our team members are vaccinated, and we’ve already started booster shots because we want them to be healthy, and they need to be healthy to work so they can provide for their families.”

The line has added “enhanced sanitation and cleaning” as well as special filters and UV lights in parts of the ship that don’t have a 100% flow of outside air.

Currently, Seabourn has two of its five vessels back in service, with the remaining trio expected to be hosting guests again by the middle of next year.

However, the main story could be the line has added services and amenities at a time its land-based competitors are citing labor shortages and virus protocols for taking them away.

“I got into Seattle and got in at eleven o’clock and was starving, and (the hotel) didn’t have room service. They cut it out. And in the morning, they took away the hot breakfast in the executive lounge. Our strategy is we’ve added things. For example, hundreds of new recipes, a new breakfast service option. We have not taken away, and people really appreciate it,” Leibowitz said.

Unlike some resorts, staffing hasn’t been an issue in its restart. Of its shipboard team, 99% who responded to a survey (about two-thirds of the total) wanted to come back, with 80% saying they were ready right away and the remainder within six months.

Since taking over as president in June 2020 – the McKinsey alum has been with the world’s biggest operator of cruise ships since 2013 – Leibowitz has been coaching innovation.

For example, when he found out its cabin attendants, previously called stewardesses, were exclusively women from Europe, he opened the position to any gender from anywhere in the world and created a new junior attendant slot. By having the entry-level position, Seabourn now has a strong pipeline of newcomers training to move up.

While the line’s head of hotel operations started as a waiter, Leibowitz said, based on feedback, he has now implemented a program that makes it more transparent how to move into different and more senior roles.

As some hotels are struggling to restock basic amenities like branded shampoos, Seabourn can “cannibalize” from the ships not yet back in service, Leibowitz said.

While hotels have reduced or closed restaurants due to staffing issues, everything is operating as usual on Seabourn voyages, the same with housekeeping services. The line is maintaining its “nearly one-to-one” ratio with staff.

That doesn’t mean there aren’t challenges. In terms of bringing the crew back, he says there is more documentation getting them from their home countries to the ships and then once aboard the quarantine procedures. Hiring qualified medical personnel has also been challenging, and the company had to increase compensation.

For passengers, Leibowitz says Seabourn is not only offering all the services it did before cruises were halted, but added more. It extended dining options with hundreds of new recipes inspired by the trend towards healthy eating. That includes more vegan, vegetarian and plant-based dishes as well as classic options. A new al fresco dining venue has been added and a small bites menu at The Club now changes daily. A new app allows guests to order their cappuccinos in advance, make various reservations online or view the ship’s extensive wine list. There is a classical concert on deck during sail away events. Complimentary WiFi has become unlimited, and bandwidth was tripled. Despite higher costs for the products it buys, it continues to fly in fish from Japan for the sushi it serves.

One difference is the ships are not sailing at 100% occupancy, a pre-Covid industry standard. That’s due in part to allocating suites for quarantine and isolation.

Leibowitz attributes the remaining shortfall, not to lack of interest, but a shorter sales window. “We reveal schedules two years in advance and by 60 to 90 days (before departure) are sold-out.” In restarting Ovation, the line only had two quarters of selling time. “If we sold for a normal period, we would have been oversold,” he told the journalists.

As travel restarts and luxury hotels hike rates, it’s also highlighting the value of cruising at the high-end. For its average daily price of $1,000 per day for a suite, guests get an inclusive experience. That includes fine dining at Thomas Keller’s onboard restaurants, premium liquors, craft cocktails, and even handmade gelato by chefs who are flown to Bologna, Italy, for training.

“You go to Anguilla, and it’s $3,000 a night for the room,” he noted.

The wide gap has meant Seabourn is no longer discounting before sailings. Contrary to traditional cruise sales practices, prices now go up before departure. That said, the line recently launched its first sale designed to boost bookings throughout 2022. It ends at the end of the month, and Leibowitz says prices will go up after that.

Seabourn Ovation is currently sailing from Miami with a series of cruises to the Western Caribbean and through the Panama Canal, ending in Los Angeles. For the summer, it will move to the Baltic, featuring popular seven-day itineraries. Originally, it would have been cruising from Australia right now. That country remains closed for cruises.

It also highlights the current challenges for lines and customers. Since ships visit multiple countries on a single voyage, both need to be flexible. This summer, in Greece, passengers could get off in ports and do their own thing. In Italy, they were required to stay in a bubble with other guests.

The pandemic is also creating new guest booking patterns. A big trend is booking four or five cruises at once, and customers have booked cabins for the entire winter. Friends who join them for parts of their journey, in some cases, are first-time cruisers, and overall, the guest profile is becoming younger.

Leibowitz describes Seabourn as “active luxury” and leads a tour to a lower deck where in good weather, there is a marina stocked with the same types of water toys you find on a superyacht.   

Still, on the main passenger decks, guests young and old will be impressed by the Adam Tihany designed interior, combining modern and classical elements, with high-quality materials and innovative lighting. It serves as a stage for Seabourn’s team to deliver their high-touch service.

As an example of the excitement to be back and catering to the whims of its clientele, Leibowitz points to the entertainers. In some cases, they haven’t performed for live audiences since cruises were halted in the Spring of 2020.

Leibowitz told of a voyage this summer where a honeymoon couple had booked after their wedding and initial plans had to be amended several times.  They wanted to dance all night, so at 2 a.m., the pianist was still playing for them alone on the dance floor.

The combination of not cutting back and an enthusiastic team is being reflected in Seabourn’s Net Promoter score. So far, five voyages have scored a perfect 100, meaning out of several hundred guests, all of the ratings were at least a nine or 10 out of 10.


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