According to the Saudi Tourism Authority, Seabourn Cruise Line has been sold to the Saudis. The people I spoke with were definite and quite excited. They, in fact, emphasized the point by placing their fingers on a map of Saudi and stating, “Do you think we are building these two new cruise ports for no reason?!“
How did I come to this information? Over this past weekend, I attended a travel conference in Miami Beach, Florida. It was partially sponsored by the Saudi Tourism Authority, which was in attendance. And, well, you know me: I was going to as “The Question“.
But first, let me give you some background and perspective from two different approaches as to why I am confident in reporting this now.
As an American, a Jew, and a liberal from a political point of view, I was initially shocked and angered the Saudis were at this conference. With the issues surrounding that horrible murder, women’s rights, a definite anti-Semitic lean (though Israel does have a decent backdoor relationship with the Saudis), etc., creating a very strong, “I am not giving my American time or money to the Saudis” sentiment, I thought even just a discussion about whether I should have a discussion would set me off.
But then I took a breath and decided I should try to do the same thing I try to do with others I strongly disagree with: Disagree without being disagreeable. Because, in the end, taking absolute positions can’t wind up with anything productive happening.
Maybe it was, in part, because I had just days before hosted the Goldring Travel 2022 Culinary & Cultural Cruise on Windstar’s Star Legend, which concluded with a Geopolitical Tour of the Golan Heights in Israel, followed by a fantastic lunch with an absolutely awe-inspiring Druze woman who spoke, among other things, of her stubborn, but effective, incremental fight to gain the right for Druze woman to drive cars and more. So, facing and communicating with those one disagrees with, rather than just shutting things down, might be the way to go. And, heck, what did I have to lose?
When I sat down in front of the two representatives, I pretty much laid things out as noted above. They were polite and willing to show respect for my positions and concerns. And with that, we actually had a very good conversation about the amazing historical and religious aspects of Saudi, how incrementally Jewish historical sites are being opened (under the “right” circumstances), and how the opening up of Saudi is a process that has begun but takes time…though how much was left open. And all the time, creeping into the back of my brain was, “If the Israeli government can find reasons to formulate some sort of relationship, might my doing so be – substantively, if not perceptively – reasonable?“
And with that discussion had, I let them know about my former position in relation to being one of Seabourn’s top-selling agents worldwide. I said that I knew there were reports of Saudi interest in Seabourn and that guests had seen Saudi representatives overtly wearing Saudi identifiers on the Seabourn Quest this summer, but that things seemed to go quiet.
They both jumped on my question and were absolutely unequivocal that Seabourn had been purchased. I asked when the announcement would be made and they said that was the decision of Cruise Saudi, but then speculated it could be as early as Cruise 360 (another travel conference), but they had no real idea.
*NOTE: I requested that they have Cruise Saudi contact me, and I await their communication. I would prefer two major sources to confirm the sale and, if so, the timing! But I doubt a representative of the Saudis misspoke! (Also, another person I know heard the same thing from a different source, so it clearly is not a “state secret”!)
But there are the other telltale signals – not from my conversation – that the sale of Seabourn is a done deal. That starts with the apparent disinterest of its president, Josh Leibowitz, in truly promoting or developing the brand, no less being the face of Seabourn.
At the same conference, Leibowitz attended only one day (not that same would be unusual) but in that day gave a lackluster five-minute presentation with a notable inability to describe the Seabourn product, lots of “ums” and repetition as he spoke, and misinformation (such as Seabourn has the newest and largest submarines on the Seabourn Venture…which might have been true when they were ordered three years ago, but now isn’t- with the same company – U-Boat Worx – supplying Scenic Eclipse I and II with the next generation larger ones. I know this from a direct conversation with U-Boat Worx about six months ago. Lots of News Came Out of the 2022 Seatrade Cruise Global Conference)
Leibowitz also played the same video that has been out for months, not showing the Seabourn Venture on an expedition, but being moved out of the shipyard with tugs…and with virtually no actual Seabourn Venture activities – a minimal investment. And Leibowitz did attend one lunch with a friend of mine and was told he sat there silently and seemingly disinterested.
Further, one of my clients noted that Leibowitz was not – as one would expect…and I think at least implied – present at the Gala in Seattle for the Grand Voyage to Australia. (Also, it has been said that some of the Seabourn Seattle staff would be there, and they weren’t.)
Further, Leibowitz, in the litigation with me, filed a Declaration stating that he lives and works in Miami and has no intention of ever moving the Seattle, where Seabourn is based.
Add to that:
I could go on, but you get the idea: Seabourn isn’t exactly working to build the brand or maintain brand loyalty.
Add to that, Carnival Corp. isn’t in great financial shape, with former CEO Arnold Donald affirmatively stating that it would consider all offers regarding the sale of a brand. Plus, just a week or so ago, it announced it was offering $1.5 Billion in bonds to be secured by 12 of its ships (it is scary enough that the goodwill of the corporation wasn’t enough) and that the funds – unlike Royal Caribbean – aren’t to be used solely to retire higher interest debts, but to actually run the company.
Now, is it possible that the Saudis gave me misinformation? Of course it is…but what really is that possibility? I think very low.
Does this mean you shouldn’t book a Seabourn cruise? I don’t think so. More information is needed, so I would proceed with caution and look at all of your options.
Remember, Royal Caribbean sold off Azamara and it seems to be going along just fine. Similarly, Ponant purchased Paul Gauguin and I haven’t heard any rumblings. So until that information is received…
Heck, it might actually be good news for me…and open a new Seabourn market or expand the one that exists, which I can profit from.