By Don George
I had the opportunity to sit down with Edie Rodriquez, CEO and President of Crystal Cruises, on Crystal Serenity’s 25th anniversary President’s Cruise, less than 24 hours after she had delivered the electrifying announcement of a game-changing blueprint for the brand’s expansion into yacht, river, ocean, and air journeys. Here are excerpts from our conversation.
Last night’s announcement was so extraordinary and sweeping, it took everyone’s breath away. How did all of these sweeping changes happen?
Our chairman, Tan Sri Lim Kok Thay, is such a visionary; and the very first moment he met me, as we sat across the table in a conference room, when Genting was vying for Crystal, he said, “I’ve read everything you’ve said about your vision for the brand — seven ships, seven seas, seven continents — and I agree with that, and we can go beyond that.” That was wonderful! He and I and our teams really put our minds together and we began our strategy with what our past guests, our loyal Crystal Society members, have been telling us they want.
So when Genting was approaching the purchase of Crystal, already their thinking was that they could expand and expand on this?
Absolutely. I said to them — as I said to every entity vying for Crystal — if your intention is to acquire this brand, it’s not just about the purchase price. Unless you’re willing to invest to grow the brand, please respectfully don’t even bother pursuing this. We need to grow and be creative and move on to the next quarter of a century. And our chairman is ready, willing, and able to do that for this great brand.
Now that you finally have been able to make this announcement, how are you feeling today?
I’d kept it bottled up for months! And now I am so happy and ecstatic that words cannot even describe it. This is the most exciting time of my 34-year career. I feel like I’ve truly been blessed with all of the best of the best: a great chairman and owner, the best management team, great crew family members on land and at sea, and phenomenal guests who are second to none.
I was thinking as you were making your announcement last night that now you have all of these new entry points for people who may not immediately want to take an ocean cruise but may be very happy to take a river cruise or yacht cruise. This is a great way to hugely expand the Crystal customer base.
That’s absolutely right. Yes, it’s a global consumer who wants a myriad of exclusive travel experiences of different flavors, and we believe that, wherever in the world they want to go and whatever style they want to travel in, we can provide an experience for them.
What do you see as the principal challenges ahead?
First of all, I want to say that there are great challenges ahead, and I’m confident we can meet them, because our chairman has empowered me to staff up as needed across the board for development and implementation. That’s paramount. Whenever you have this type of growth — at least in my 34-year history when I’ve been a part of or observed or followed business cases along similar scenarios — you can never take your eye off the ball. In this case, that means Serenity and Symphony. We still have to deliver great service on these two ships while developing all these other new experiences. So I tell all my teams on land and at sea and the sales teams around the world: Never forget that that’s where it begins and ends; we have to be the best of the best at every touch point along the way.
With all these sweeping expansions, do you have a sense of how many staff members you’re going to have to hire?
Quite a few! With three ocean-going vessels of 1-to-1 crew-to-guest ratio, each of those vessels will require 1,000 crew members — or family members, as I like to call them — and that’s just the new ships! That doesn’t take into account the additional reservations agents and itinerary planners, and staff of that nature.
It sounds like, essentially, the ethos and the mindset will be the same whatever the kind of vessel, and that comes down to customer service. As we’ve discussed before, the heart of the Crystal experience is the way the crew members treat every encounter with a guest as precious and irreplaceable.
That’s exactly right. And the other great thing is, a happy crew means happy guests. We have some crew members who have been with us from day one, and we want them to be excited and to feel that they have an opportunity to grow with us. This expansion will also give our existing team members at sea an opportunity to try another thing.
It’s very funny. We’re cruising on the 25th anniversary of Crystal Cruises on Crystal Serenity; and our captain, Birger Vorland, after hearing all my announcements last night, said to me, “How do I train to be an airline pilot? I’d like to fly that Dreamliner!” I told him, “Well, get your pilot’s license and you’ll have an opportunity to apply for that.” So it gives everyone — even the captain — an opportunity for a second career.
Featured image: Crystal CEO Edie Rodriguez, Captain Birger Vorland, and Hotel Director Hubert Buelacher
Please stay tuned for Part II of Don George’s enlightening talk with President & CEO Edie Rodriguez.