After spending his first five years tweaking and enhancing the product line, Holland America Line (HAL) president Orlando Ashford is now taking a hands-on approach to help get the message out about the “new” Holland America to trade partners, and ultimately consumers.
This included a visit to Toronto yesterday (Nov. 26) for a Live with Holland America Line sales event, which attracted more than 150 travel agents. A similar event was held in Vancouver last month.
Orlando, who celebrates his fifth anniversary with the cruise line on Dec. 1, noted that the line was 140 years old when he joined, saying, “so clearly there’s a lot that this brand has done well and done well for a long, long time. My charge when I joined was to create some new energy so that we could attract some new-to-HAL [cruisers] while maintaining our existing very loyal customer. It needed a punch of energy.”
The initial focus was on destination delivery (now 470-plus ports, 120 countries, and all seven continents), the culinary experience, entertainment and service.
“We have always been known for being able to go to more places because our ships are a little smaller so that’s something we want to stay true to, and elevate,” said Ashford.
Regarding entertainment, “We’ve really focused on live music. I’d say, without hesitation, the best in the industry… the variety, the quality.”
Taking this to the next level is HAL’s unique Music Walk, featuring B.B. King’s Blues Club, the Lincoln Center Stage (highlighted by a five-piece orchestra), Billboard Onboard and the Rolling Stone Rock Room.
“We worked to elevate our offering in each. And I’d say that it’s worked… in the areas that we’ve decided to really focus on we’re delivering and delivering to the pleasure of our guests, which is what this is all about.”
Ashford’s goal now is to accelerate how well trade partners — 75% of HAL’s bookings come from travel agents — and travellers understand the “new” Holland America.
“We are fighting some perceptions that go back five, 10 years. Our guests tend to be 55-plus, retired, semi-retired, and that’s great. We love older, mature guests. They have the time, the dollars and the resources to enjoy what we offer and our product is structured that way,” he said. “Where I get frustrated is when people equate old with quiet, boring, slow. That’s not what people 55 plus want. They are at an age where they want to engage, they want to have music, they want to have wine, they want to be engaged when they’re in port and we are working very aggressively to create a product that enables that.”
He added that his intention is, “to make sure that that message around the new or revised Holland America Line is getting to the trade and ultimately to the consumer… because I feel very confident that once we get the guest on board they tend to like what we offer. If you like destinations, if you’re a modern explorer, if you like food, and you consider yourself a foodie, and you like live music, and you like being served, you will like Holland America Line.
“I want to accelerate the understanding… there are people that are saying, ‘I haven’t been on a Holland America ship in 10 years,’ and if you’re selling based on where we were 10 years ago, it’s changed.”
Ashford noted the line’s Net Promoter Scores (a customer loyalty metric) are the highest in the history of the company for the last two years running, which shows “our product is a very good product.”
On the destination front, Holland America will have seven ships sailing to Alaska next summer (from Vancouver and Seattle), six ships in Europe next summer and seven ships in the Caribbean next fall/winter, sailing seven-, 10-, 14- and 21-day itineraries out of Fort Lauderdale.
The line’s newest ship, Ryndam, will join the fleet in June 2021, initially sailing in northern Europe.
Pictured, top photo, (l-r) Denella Ri’chard, senior director, Trade Engagement and Onboard Sales, Lori Patterson, BDM, Ashford, KK Robins, Cruise & Travel Director, Mary Goldsmith, BDM, and Bill Prince, vice-president, Entertainment and Enrichment.