By positioning itself as “upper-premium,” Oceania seeks to fall between the typical cost of $200 per day or less for a premium line and the luxury prices that can reach $600 a day. A 10-day Mediterranean sailing in August 2013 aboard the newest Celebrity ship, Reflection, starts at about $195 a day per person; a cruise departing from the same port around the same time aboard Riviera, by comparison, starts at about $415 per person per day.
“In order to overcome that, we must be able to provide an extraordinary product to lure customers to our brand,” Del Rio said.
Guest feedback is crucial to Del Rio as well, who describes himself as a “Cruise Critic junkie.” Known on the site as “FDR,” he said he spots trends and problems that need to be fixed on discussion boards. Not long ago, he said, users were complaining about slow Internet speed. The company took action and tripled the bandwidth to fix the problem.
Recently, he came across a woman’s post wondering what she should do in the long window of time between disembarking from a cruise in Miami and flying home from Miami International Airport.
“I said, ‘I’m a long-term Miami boy, I know exactly what you should do,’” Del Rio said. He planned a day and made a sign with her name using his grandkids’ construction paper and markers.
“She couldn’t believe that I had shown up,” he said. “I was there on time too.”
Kamlani, who was born in Hialeah and lived there until his family moved to New York when he was 13, said he tries to visit the company’s ships in port on a regular basis. He finds the experience valuable, especially when people mistake him for crew and ask for help with their luggage.
He helps, he said, and then turns down their offered tips, explaining his position with the company (and that he’s already taken their cruise fare). He said the encounter usually enables him to make friends with the guests — and establish a line of contact to get their feedback.
“You now have a one-on-one relationship with a guest,” said Kamlani, 40. “It’s actually a great opportunity.”
A graduate of Colgate University who got his MBA at Columbia, Kamlani first joined the Prestige Cruise Holdings as chief financial officer in 2009. He left to run a division of Merrill Lynch the next year, but returned as the parent company’s president and chief operating officer in September of 2011. He added the role of Oceania president a month later when former president Bruce Himelstein left.
Kamlani said he’s determined to make sure that each brand learns from the other’s successes and failures. One policy that the company says has worked is a decision to avoid slashing fares to fill ships.
At Regent, that led to including shore excursions in the all-in cost. And at Oceania, it means spending more money on marketing when a particular sailing is not selling well.
“What we’ve been able to do over the years is to show travel agents and consumers alike that if you want to buy an Oceania cruise, you ought to buy it early,” Del Rio said. “If you wait, you may not get the cabin you want on the sailing you want and you’re probably going to pay a higher price.’’
That policy is a hit with travel agents, a key distribution channel.
“They compensate the agents well, both lines do,” said Mike Driscoll, editor of the weekly trade publication Cruise Week. “You just don’t hear complaints about them — and that’s rare in this business.”
Del Rio’s expectations for the new year are unlikely to prompt any complaints from travel partners. He said occupancies are slightly better and pricing is stronger looking forward. Despite the problems that the industry faced this year, especially in Europe, the company has had a record year, due in part to a sophisticated client base that’s not easily shaken.
“2012 was a record year, and 2013 will be even better,” Del Rio said.
As for the longer term, Del Rio is optimistic.
“I think both brands will continue to grow,” he said. “Five years from now, they will have more ships, serve more guests, will be more profitable than they are today. I can’t wait.”