Silversea Expeditions marks anniversary with blockbuster deal, possible 5th ship
Silversea Expeditions celebrates its 10-year anniversary in London

Silversea Expeditions marks anniversary with blockbuster deal, possible 5th ship

This story originally ran in the June 21, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.

TORONTO — Prices for Silversea and Silversea Expeditions are not expected to level off to appeal to a wider market with the recent Royal Caribbean deal, according to one Silversea executive. In other words, Silversea will stay true to its ultra-luxury brand.

“RCCL has been pursuing this investment to keep Silversea and Silversea Expeditions at their respective price points. The current offering works complementary to RCCL’s portfolio,” said Silversea’s Chief Marketing Officer, Barbara Muckermann, in an interview with Travelweek.

And though Silversea cannot confirm new builds for its Expeditions line at this time, Muckermann said: “We are all very bullish on the potential of the expeditions market. 72% of the globe is covered by water and we have on the market 1,028 ports, or places, which is still a very small part of where we can go.”

In mid-June Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. announced it was laying out US$1 billion for a 66.7% stake in privately-owned Silversea Cruises. The move will set the luxury and expedition cruise brand on a course for continued success, say both companies.

The news broke just days after Silversea hosted a two-night cruise for media and travel professionals from London to Dublin onboard the Silver Cloud Expedition, celebrating the brand’s 10-year anniversary. Silver Cloud was transformed from a Classic ship into an Expeditions vessel in November 2017 and Silversea’s CEO Roberto Martinoli told Travelweek that demand for expedition cruising is at an all-time high.

Silversea Expeditions marks anniversary with blockbuster deal, possible 5th ship

Roberto Martinoli, Silversea CEO

“There’s a very high interest in expedition, with studies showing that even through there is quite an increase in offerings, demand is increasing even further. So there are no concerns of a balance between offer and demand – on the contrary, demand is supposedly growing much faster than supply,” he said.

Expeditions, Martinoli added, currently makes up about 30% of the cruise line’s total revenues, and 2018-2019 bookings are doing “great”. This is particularly significant considering that with the recent conversion of the Cloud, capacity for Silversea Expeditions increased by a whopping 60% over the previous year.

And though the company’s bread and butter will always be its Classic fleet (it currently has two new Classic ships on order plus an option for a third), its Expeditions line is doing “much better” than anyone at Silversea ever expected.

“When we started Expeditions 10 years back, the company was unsure of how it would go. But our new Silver Cloud is a great example of how far we’ve come and how well this product is being received,” he said. “We were definitely a pioneer in the expeditions segment because we did it in ultra luxury. This combination makes us unique, in both the level of service and the luxury provided on our ships.”

With the successful transformation of the Cloud, all eyes are now on sister ship Silver Wind, which is widely rumoured to be next in line for a conversion. When asked whether the rumours are true, Martinoli said, “The Silver Wind could be our next move into the expedition world, we’re definitely thinking about it in a couple of years. The first thing that will happen is most likely the Wind moving to the Expedition line, and we are also very seriously looking into a new build for Expeditions as well.”

Interestingly, Silversea Expeditions’ very first cruise in June 2008 didn’t go exactly as planned. With an abundance of polar bears in Svalbard, Norway, the crew ran numerous zodiac cruises to allow for ample wildlife sightings. But what they didn’t take into account was just how much fuel they needed to operate the zodiacs.

A small miscalculation, to say the least, but Silversea, as it will have shown time and time again over the next decade, is nothing if not resourceful. Conrad Combrink, Silversea’s Senior Vice President, Strategic Development Expeditions and Experiences who was onboard at the time, got on the horn with a captain of a nearby ship and negotiated a historic deal: two boxes of champagne for 200 litres of fuel.

You can argue that those two boxes of bubbly set Silversea Expeditions – Silversea Cruises’ specialty product line – on a course towards continued success. Growing from just one ship 10 years ago to its current fleet of four expedition vessels (with talk of an additional ship conversion and new builds in the future), the line is seeing significant expansion in capacity, demand and product offerings during its anniversary year.

And thanks to the RCCL deal, Silversea Expeditions is expected to see even more long-term capacity growth in the expeditions market, an increasingly competitive space occupied by the likes of Ponant, Scenic, Crystal and Quark Expeditions.

Silversea Expeditions marks anniversary with blockbuster deal, possible 5th ship

The Silversea Cloud Expedition sails through London’s Tower Bridge 10 years after Silversea Expeditions’ inaugural cruise

“This partnership will bolster the growth of this exceptional brand founded by my father,” said Manfredi Lefebvre, Silversea’s chairman. “It gives Silversea the opportunity to accelerate the growth of the most successful luxury and expedition cruising brand in the world.”

Lefebvre said that Silversea is considering relocating more of its Expeditions ships to permanent locations, like how the Silver Galapagos serves the Galapagos full time. “We have several ideas, not only ships of different sizes but also the possibility to locate those ships at certain destinations.”

For now, the company is focusing on where it will be venturing to next, as “it’s all about the destination,” said Combrink. As one of the most ambitious cruise lines in the market today as far as destinations go, Silversea has travelled to the world’s most remote and uninhabited locations with its Expeditions line, most notably the Northwest Passage in 2014 and Bangladesh in 2017. In 2012, it became one of the first luxury cruise lines to ever sail to West Africa, and in that same year it opened up the Russian Far East, “the Alaska no one had ever seen before,” said Muckermann.

Over the course of 10 years, all this amounts to a combined total of over one million nautical miles, the equivalent of five trips to the moon or 47 times around the world. Its Expeditions ships, which Combrink describes as “real workhorses”, have visited 129 countries, spent a total of 450 days in Antarctica and 118 days in the notorious Drake Passage, and made 11,960 port calls.

What’s next for Silversea Expeditions? A return to Bangladesh in 2019 as well as its first ever trip to the Northeast Passage that same year, a 26-day voyage from Nome, Alaska to Tromso, Norway that very few ships have done. In fact, only three or four successful transits have ever been made, said Combrink, all done by one company.

Despite the adventurous nature of these voyages, Silversea Expeditions is well suited for all types of travellers. With butlers and fine dining restaurants onboard, it’s an obvious choice for luxury travellers in search of more intimate, off-the-beaten-path cruise experiences. According to Muckermann, the fastest growing group for Silversea Expeditions is Boomers, with families also making a big push in recent years (specifically to the Galapagos).

And now with RCCL at the helm, Expeditions’ customer base is expected to become wider, a fact that’s well suited to the newly converted Silver Cloud. As it was a former Classic vessel, the Cloud has been regarded by critics as being “too large” to run expeditions, but according to Mark Conroy, Managing Director, The Americas for Silversea Cruises, its size is what makes the Cloud sellable.

“Because of the Cloud’s size and speed, we can do expedition cruises in a more compact way since it can do 17 knots as opposed to 13 knots,” he said. “This allows us to take cruises that would normally be 21 days and knick them into 10-15 days, which in turn allows us to sell to a broader audience who has the money but not necessarily the time.”

Yet another example of how resourceful and adaptable Silversea Expeditions has become in just 10 short years. And with this new RCCL deal, a possible fifth expedition ship and exciting new destinations on the horizon, the next decade looks even more promising. On what to expect from the product line, Combrink simply said: “Watch this space because there’s still a lot to come from Silversea Expeditions.”

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