I am pleased to announce that the Seabourn Cruise Line litigation with Goldring Travel and me is “Resolved”.
I cannot get into details of the terms, as they are confidential, so please don’t ask. However, what I can – enthusiastically – say is that:
1. Goldring Travel will continue to operate – as it has been…with the added bonus of a now vastly expanded stable – and knowledge of – travel offerings – of Explora Journeys, Silversea, Scenic, Tauck, Oceania, Quark Expeditions, Aurora Expeditions, Ponant, and more.
2. Goldring Travel’s Making Waves blog (www.makingwavesblog.com) will continue – as always– to provide you with candid and honest facts and opinions about what is happening in the travel industry without favor or censorship.
3. Goldring Travel will continue – as always – to provide our clients with outstanding service, pricing, and amenities.
Interested in a bit of a history and a look forward? Read on. (If not, that’s OK too!)
If you look at what else has happened at Seabourn and the Seabourn product immediately prior to, and since the dispute and litigation commenced, I believe it speaks volumes. As I have said from the outset – as others have opined – I believe the dispute and litigation were intended to shut me up and put me out of business in a sort of “silence your critics, especially when they are right” kind of thing.
That said, I am pleased to say that things – at least some things – at Seabourn are changing for the better with its new leadership by Natalya Leahy. But more on that in a minute. First, however, let’s discuss the past, so we can better then discuss – and put into context – a more positive future!
Leibowitz is Gone & Goldring Isn’t – Seabourn’s then-president, Josh Leibowitz, who started the dispute, is gone – and not just from Seabourn but Carnival Corp., where he had been for years. Imagine that: Leibowitz is gone and Goldring isn’t! Some things are coincidence and some things aren’t. If you look at what Natanya Leahy is doing (discussed below), I’m going with: It is no coincidence.
Further, I have never seen a situation where a cruise line president’s tenure ended and nobody in the industry seemed to care where he landed, if at all. We all know that I was never a fan of Leibowitz, previously noting some of his more cringe-worthy public comments and my opposing many of his changes. But it seems that the lack of fondness was widespread in the industry. I never understood why he was picked as president. Leibowitz is Out as President of Seabourn – What the Heck is Going On?
Cementing my feelings about Leibowitz is his new Amazon book, “Parenting MBA: How to Apply What Makes You Successful at Work to the Most Important Job of Your Life”. The title alone is – again – cringe-worthy. It was interesting that he wrote, “At forty-eight I was running a luxury travel-company with four thousand employees” yet, importantly, he failed to mention that he was terminated after his brief tenure. (He mentions former employers in his discussions, but not Seabourn.)
Something about his lack of transparency and honesty – the same complaint I vigorously had with him while he was at Seabourn – still rings true. In fact, relevant to my situation, I refer you to Page 70 of his tome:
Think back on a moment in your professional or personal past, when someone gave you the honest story, completely unfiltered, and explained in a way to help you understand reality and make better decisions in life. Now, in contrast, think of a time when you felt as though you weren’t getting the straight story, from a friend, a coworker, a spouse, or even a child. How did you feel in each case? (emphasis added)
Well, I think we all know what I gave him….for better or for worse. LOL.
Seabourn Guest Experience Decline – Seabourn’s guest experience suffered significantly as a result of the Liebowitz-era changes. Cutbacks were everywhere. Cuisine to service to guest services to many of the small touches that made Seabourn…well, Seabourn…were modified or eliminated. And that angered many loyal Seabourn guests, degraded their experiences, and, alas, weakened loyalty to the Seabourn brand…and put off a number of travel agents.
When sailings were canceled, especially regarding the ill-fated construction of Seabourn Venture, there were schemes put in place that I believe were just plain wrong. It is not worth getting too far into the details, but as one example, when the Seabourn Venture’s maiden voyage was delayed again, guest funds were not returned or future cruise credits issued until after a long-delay process of rebooking them on a totally different cruise they didn’t want a part of in what clearly to me was an effort to improperly hold on to their funds – with the lack of transparency and honestly was self-evident.
Then there was the combination of Seabourn not only with Holland America, but also with Princess. I protested back then that, to me, (a) Princess looked at Seabourn as a pain as its revenue paled in comparison and the entire Seabourn inventory could fit on one half of a single Princess ship; and (b) Princess personnel were not trained to work in the luxury market. As a result, the highest paying guests (Seabourn) were not receiving priority service; and service, when given, was usually mass market rather than of a luxury quality.
Add to that the mass exodus of staff and executives due – they say – to the installation of a sort of “corporate edict” as to how the Seabourn experience was to be delivered, rather than in the manner they were so personally passionate about providing, plus a laundry list of cutbacks from back office support (and, thus, a decline in guest services) to onboard amenities, and…
My voice delivered “the honest story, completely unfiltered, and explained in a way to help [Seabourn] understand reality” but I guess my passion plus B.S. and J.D. degrees, and decades as one of Seabourn’s top agents weren’t the MBA that was “needed” for credibility.
Carnival Corp. Not Making Significant Investment in Seabourn – Carnival Corp. announced it was not making any major investments in Seabourn and that after the Seabourn Pursuit was delivered there are no plans for either new Seabourn ships or major renovations of the existing fleet. Now, I fully understand the need for belt-tightening due to the financial strains of the pandemic, but when your competition – Explora Journeys, Silversea, Regent, Ponant, and others – are making those investments it shakes confidence…especially with all the cutbacks that Seabourn put in place.
Sale of Seabourn Odyssey – During the pandemic and shortly thereafter, there was much talk about Seabourn being for sale and it appears there was a good bit of substance to it. However, it now appears – see below – that Carnival Corp.’s financial position has changed for the positive and the prospects of the full sale of Seabourn are not at the fore. (Some speculation at the time was that Seabourn might become a two-ship expedition company or part of another Carnival brand.) However, Seabourn recently sold the Seabourn Odyssey – which is departing the fleet in August 2024 – basically keeping its capacity after the Seabourn Venture and Seabourn Pursuit join its fleet as it was before they arrived on the scene.
To me, it is concerning that when all of Seabourn’s competitors are gearing up for growth over the next few years and Seabourn is ensuring it will, at best (and assuming no more ship sales), simply maintain capacity and without any major investment in its existing fleet. For example, in 2021 Silversea had seven ships, but by 2024 it will have twelve ships. Explora Journeys did not exist, but will have two ships in 2024 and will grow to six in a few years. And the list goes on.
I have no issue with “small and mighty” – which is how Seabourn was started – but with no significant investment in aging (but not yet aged) hardware, I’m not sure how mighty Seabourn can be.
What Has Recently Changed for the Better at Seabourn Since the Dispute?
Natalya Leahy, Seabourn’s New President – The best of the good news is Seabourn apparently now has a president who is showing every sign of being invested in Seabourn, looking long-term, being personally engaging with the Seabourn guests, and unwinding many of the things done under the prior management. Now, I don’t know if all of the credit goes to Natalya Leahy or if it is to be partially credited to Josh Weinstein, Carnival Corp.’s new CEO, but there have been a number of changes for the positive. While most of them would be what I call “baby steps”, a few of them are truly significant.
Leahy’s Personal Engagement – I remember back when Seabourn’s presidents were personally involved with the guests, possibly too much so. It has been too many years since there was a sense of “personal involvement”. It warmed my heart and encouraged hope when I received an email from one of my clients letting me know that Natalya Leahy sat with them, listening and engaging for over an hour. That’s the way it used to be and, hopefully, will be the way moving forward.
Seabourn is No Longer Under the Princess Umbrella – As noted above, I protested Seabourn being put under the umbrella of Princess Cruises. The concept of consolidation can seem to be a smart financial decision…until it isn’t. Other than Princess and Seabourn both being cruise lines, there is very little operationally that are similar or even complimentary. From provisioning, to staffing, to itineraries, to guest services, they have very different needs, focus, and goals.
The ability for Seabourn to be nimble – already having been somewhat stifled with the combination with Holland America – was severely hampered by a corporate approach with too many layers and too many people that weren’t experienced with what the Seabourn product is and how it has to be delivered.
Seabourn Will Have Its Own Destinations Department – This issue predates the last management. When Seabourn was moved to Seattle and combined with Holland America one of the best luxury destination departments was disbanded and that valuable brain trust and enthusiasm was lost.
Right after the merger, I actually was tasked with explaining to the HAL destinations team the basics of a Seabourn tour including such simple things as 50 passenger tour buses were to hold no more than 25 guests…with water provided, and cool hand towels available upon the return to the ship. Yet bespoke tours usually became little more than a scaled down HAL tours. With the inclusion of Princess, well let’s just say things didn’t get any better.
The first steps, now taken under Leahy, were identifying this as an issue and then admitting it is an issue. We shall see how and what the improvements are – because you need the talent and experience to make it work – but I do have a bit of optimism.
Seabourn Academy Employee Training – Again, the issue of the hotel staff not all being up to what were Seabourn standards was identified and admitted as an issue under Leahy. That is a significant start!
I do not know what this will entail, but the fact that it will include shoreside team members “creating a seamless experience for you, our guests” is encouraging. This was a big issue for me. I repeatedly stated (OK, maybe more than stated), “The pre-cruise experience must match the onboard experience.”
There have been some very significant training issues – again, recognized and admitted – some of which were tolerable due to the pandemic, but no longer. The real question is, “What is the Seabourn Academy?” When it was originally instituted there was a literal training academy off the ships and, further, when the trainees were brought onto a Seabourn ship, they essentially shadowed trained staff for a period before being put into service. And Now for Some Good News – Seabourn’s First Wave of New Crew-in-Training Has Arrived
The second iteration was far less than that; more akin to window dressing. To my mind, it was not any sort of true training before being put into service. What this third iteration of Seabourn Academy will be is not known, but I do hope it is far more than the last one.
SpaceX’s Starlink – The struggles with internet on Seabourn ships have been real, literally since internet was a thing on cruise ships. Seabourn has lagged behind the rest of the luxury market both in the quality of internet service and, until fairly recently, charging for it. I am not sure why the somewhat slow rollout of Starlink, but the fact that it will be on all of Seabourn’s ships this year and that is a real positive.
(One thing I have to note is that early on during the litigation I had advised Seabourn’s attorneys and the court that I was in the Arctic with very poor to no internet. Seabourn’s in-house counsel effectively accused me of being dishonest when I represented that. However, Seabourn’s recent letter to its guest states, in part, “This upgraded technology debuted on Seabourn Venture in June in the Arctic region, one of the most challenging regions to stay connected in the world…”. I know. I know. But I had to point it out!)
The Little Things – It has been years since Seabourn truly refreshed its in-suite and restaurant menus. (Heck, even Carnival Cruise Line announced this week its refreshing of its menus.) This used to be an ongoing process; sometimes with a bit of fanfare. A commitment to over 100 new recipes per year is welcome news; especially when quality items such as fresh oysters and Dover sole are mentioned.
The return of fresh orange juice is nice, but lets you know the previous culinary cutbacks were very real.
I am not sure what level the Sushi in the Club will be, but it sounds like a nice change to round out the efforts to return Seabourn’s culinary experience to more of what it was.
Some other little things that were part of the Seabourn Experience but were eliminated by “management” are returning – and those little touches that show appreciation for what the Seabourn guest desires. (Again: Identified and Admitted.) They include designer soaps, a printed guest list, a farewell gift, and printed Daily Heralds (as not everyone wants to be tied to their phone or function comfortably “online”).
To me, what matters more than the return of these things is that Natalya Leahy’s team, once again, identified the issues, admitted the mistakes, and are working to fix them.
Make no mistake, the decline in the Seabourn product and loyalty took far less time and effort than current efforts by Seabourn to rise back to its previous status as the best-of-the-best in luxury cruise travel will take. Besides the implementation of the above will take time, there are headwinds caused by a loss of loyalty to the product and, importantly, the rise in quality and quantity of Seabourn’s competition.
As I lawyer I would always tell my clients, “Do you want to be ‘right’ or do you want a result?” When a client insisted on being “right” I would explain that it would not only cost a lot of money, but at the end of the day, win or lose, the client would still insist they were right, the opposing party would still insist they were right, and the judge would simply call “Next case!” because the judge has no vested interest in the result.
To be sure, I have no idea was “being right” would mean in this litigation. Would it be some sort of order or judgment telling me that I was “right” for the world to see? Taking my own advice, I think the world – at least that part of the world that matters to me – long ago came to its own conclusion. Alas, I have always focused on the “result”…which has been simply for me to do what I had been doing.
I have always been baffled by this dispute and the litigation since I have always had a very good (or better) relationship with virtually everyone who was actually “Seabourn”, I sold a lot of Seabourn cruises, and I wrote a lot about Seabourn that other travel agents, Seabourn guests, and potential guests would read; usually extolling the virtues of Seabourn.
If you look back at the things I have pointed out in the past and in this article – both the bad and the good – I think you will see that there is virtually – if not literally – everything that I complained about under the Leibowitz regime is being undone or corrected to the extent they can be…and quickly…by Natalya Leahy and her team.
To be sure, I am not saying that I was the driving force behind this positive effort, but it does show that – even if the manner in which the “reality” was delivered by me – I was spot on.
Whether it was the shooting of the messenger or an inability to admit the voluminous errors, or something else, it really doesn’t matter. The fact is that this distraction is over and I continue to have a great relationship with the executives and staff that have left Seabourn and, to the extent possible, at industry events warm welcomes by most of those still at Seabourn, speaks volumes…as well as executives at pretty much all other luxury, expedition, and premium brands.
Added to that – seemingly almost triggered by this dispute – my relationships and influence in the luxury cruise and expedition market have significantly strengthened and expanded.
Not coincidentally, I am sure you have noticed that since the litigation was started by Seabourn I have been traveling an incredible amount. There is only one reason for that: The cruise and expedition lines respect me, like me, want to work with me, and want me to not only bring my clients onto their ships, but to develop more clients.
Hence, my focus has always been on The Result: Goldring Travel is stronger than ever!