5 Questions for Crystal Cruises Tom Wolber
By John Roberts.
It’s been just about a year since Tom Wolber was appointed president and CEO of Crystal Cruises.
The cruise industry vet had spent 28 years with The Walt Disney Co., including his final decade in the company with Disney Cruise Line.
Crystal Cruises parent Genting Hong Kong placed Wolber at the helm to help steer the brand toward the future. Wolber arrived at Crystal Cruises during a period of rapid growth, and a bit of turbulence, as he says, with three new brands coming online: Crystal River Cruises, Crystal Yachts and Crystal Air.
QuirkyCruise recently caught up with Wolber in Amsterdam to check on how his first year running the ship at Crystal has been going. He sat down for five questions during a break in preparations for the christening of Crystal Debussey, a new ship for Crystal River Cruises.
QuirkyCruise: What is your overall vision for the brand, now that you have become well acclimated with everything during your first year?
Tom Wolber: I think the overall vision for the brand is to continue to widen and deepen the Crystal appeal for guests that fit into the Crystal profile. Within luxury, there are many different niches. So, what we are doing is broadening our appeal, with the introduction of river cruises and expedition cruises — on three new mega-yachts dues in 2020 and 2021, and on the yacht Crystal Esprit that debuted in 2015 — so that people can find the Crystal experience in more places. Maybe you’ve done ocean cruises a couple of times, but want to go inland a little bit more and explore that. You can do it with Crystal.
We’ve had turbulent times, as you add a yacht, river ships … big growth after 25 years of relatively stable ocean-going business. So, the immediate strategy now is to stabilize what we have. Let’s focus on them, iron them out so they perform at the level they should.
QuirkyCruise: What excites you the most everyday about getting up and working for Crystal?
Tom Wolber: Our segment of the luxury market is still growing quite well, and there are still so many destinations we can take passengers to. Designing those experiences so that they are truly what you expect from Crystal is something that excites me. We have inclusive tours in every port (for river and yacht cruises), and we design them so they are not the same tours as everyone else’s. That they are unique and not crowded is the biggest Crystal advantage.
QuirkyCruise: How important are the people and crew and their roles to the success of Crystal?
Tom Wolber: I have always maintained that the most beautiful architecture, the most-exquisite finishes, it is all just stuff. You can have great technology, a beautiful ship; it’s an empty body and a beautiful body. What brings it alive and puts the heart and soul into it, is the crew.
The crew are what creates the memories for our guests. Yes, you have a wonderful restaurant, but it’s the waiter that you remember. It’s that experience about how you were talking about your day ashore and maybe about how they are from a little village near there and how that all connects.
I think this is what Crystal does better than anyone out there. To allow the crew to interact with the guests in a professional way, but in a way that is also personable.
QuirkyCruise: What challenges or opportunities do you see coming for the company?
Tom Wolber: Obviously, we have to step up our game when it comes to our footprint. I mean footprint in multiple ways. The environmental footprint. We have to get cleaner as an industry.
We also have a “volume” footprint. We are bringing passengers to port, and as an industry, overcrowding is going to be a massive issue as we move into the next 10 years. It is opportunistic, as well. There are lots of ways to fix it. We have to start getting really smart about that, and we have to start working more hand-in-hand with the local authorities. We can bring expertise. I think that is something that will be really important for us to push for.
QuirkyCruise: What’s next for Crystal, whether it be shipwise, excursions or other?
Tom Wolber: The next big thing is going to be introducing Crystal Endeavor to the fleet. (Crystal Endeavor is a polar-class expedition yacht that carries 200 passengers and is due to set sail in 2020.) Then, we’re going back to the Diamond-Class ships, back to the ocean, introducing ships around the size of Crystal Serenity — 800 to 850 passengers max. We also will be looking to maintain that edge of generosity and space, feeling uncrowded. That is what no one else can copy.
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