TORONTO — Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford spends the last half hour of every day reading letters from Holland America passengers.
“Most of the letters that talk about the service onboard the ships focus on the crew,” says Ashford.
With the elevation of the line’s onboard experience, excellent service and wonderful crew will be a mainstay, Ashford told agents at yesterday’s ‘Live with Holland America Line’ event at Toronto’s Boulevard Club.
Having Ashford in attendance at industry events like these – and he made the trip during U.S. Thanksgiving week, no less – helps reinforce the company’s message that travel agents are crucial to Holland America’s success. “Three-quarters of our business comes from the trade,” said Ashford. Events like ‘Live with Holland America Line’ are all about “telling our story and being connected to the trade.”
Ashford is approaching his five-year anniversary as President of Holland America Line. He came to the post as an outsider, as he puts it. “I joined Holland America on Dec. 1, 2014. I took my first cruise on Dec. 5, 2014,” he said to laughs from the audience at yesterday’s event.
The cruise line, with a legacy that goes back more than 145 years, “has a wonderful rich history,” says Ashford. “Clearly there is a lot this brand has done, and done well. My job is to bring some new energy” and experiences to the cruise line, while keeping return passengers satisfied, especially those loyal guests who have cruised with Holland America for years.
Great service is one of Holland America’s ‘swim lanes’, says Ashford. The cruise line also excels at destination delivery, culinary experiences, and culture and enrichment.
“Are we perfect? No,” joked Ashford. Depending on the letters he’s reading on any particular day, “sometimes I have one drink, sometimes I have two.”
But, he adds, “are we really, really good? Absolutely. Our product’s in very good shape. And now I want to make sure that our trade partners understand what we’re about and what we’re good at.”
He continued: “I want to accelerate how well people understand the brand. We’re fighting some perceptions that go back five, 10 years. Our guests tend to be 55-plus, they have the time and they have the dollars to enjoy cruising. I get frustrated when people equate ‘older’ with ‘quiet, boring and slow’. We’re working to make sure that the message about the new Holland America Line gets out to the trade, and by extension, to the consumer. I feel very confident that if you like great destinations, great live music and excellent culinary offerings, you will like Holland America Line.”
It was a packed house for yesterday’s ‘Live with Holland America Line’ event, and Ashford got the full attention of the audience as he and other members of the Holland America Line team offered product updates.
The main message, that Holland America Line is ‘the premium cruise line dedicated to explorers, foodies and music lovers who want perfectly sized, refreshingly uncrowded ships filled with one-of-a-kind experiences’, is backed by five pillars…
. Curated journeys for explorers, with 470 ports on all seven continents, and onboard destination enrichment that includes the new multimedia ‘EXC Talks’;
. Top-level culinary experiences including ‘America’s Test Kitchen’;
. The best in live music with Lincoln Center Stage, BB King’s Blues Club, Rolling Stone Rock Room and Billboard Onboard;
. The best service at sea, “which brings guests back again and again”; and
. Timeless ship design, because “bigger isn’t better – better is better”
Holland America’s ships are the perfect size, says Ashford. The cruise line is charting a steady course between the massive mega-ships and the smaller expedition ships that are currently all the rage. “We are committed to ships with fewer than 3,000 passengers. That size allows us to go to many, many places,” he said.
One new itinerary for 2020, the 84-day Grand Africa, is an incredible journey from Boston or Fort Lauderdale that circumnavigates the entire African continent.
Holland America Line’s next Pinnacle Class ship, Ryndam, is due for delivery in May 2021. Ryndam will be similar to sister ships Koningsdam and Nieuw Statendam, measuring 99,500 tons and carrying 2,662 passengers.
With industry events like ‘Live with Holland America Line’, webinars and even one-to-one meetings with Ashford himself, the Holland America message is getting out there. “If you’re selling us based on where we were 10 years ago, it’s changed,” he said. The cruise line’s NPS scores, an indication of whether or not consumers would recommend a company’s product, “are the highest they’ve ever been,” he added.
The response from the trade for events like ‘Live with Holland America Line’ takes even Ashford back: “I’m amazed at the amount of interest in this, to be honest.”
He added that the Canadian market has always been strong for Holland America, and continues to shine. “This is an important guest for us,” he said. There are plenty of special pricing opportunities and promotions for Canadians, added Holland America BDMs Mary Goldsmith and Lori Patterson. “Agents are seeing a lot more in terms of special pricing,” said Goldsmith. “Holland America is very supportive of the Canadian market.”
A bonus commission offer was promoted at yesterday’s event. Holland America is offering agents US$100 in bonus commission to celebrate its upcoming 2020 and 2021 Alaska season. The offer is valid through Dec. 31, 2019 and applies to oceanview or higher staterooms. There’s a maximum of one bonus commission per travel agent. The promo code is VK. Some conditions apply.