The “Purge” at what used to be “SEABOURN”, but now is “seabourn” has been completed. There is but a vestige of the Seabourn of old, as I will explain. Effective November 18, 2021, Goldring Travel is no longer able to sell Seabourn/Holland America/Cunard/Princess cruises. According to Seabourn’s general counsel, this has occurred “out of convenience”; not because of any breach of its vendor business conduct policies (mishandling of bookings, failure to manage bookings, etc.)
At the outset, it is important to note when reading this article that I have, as you know, always “called it like I see it” and Seabourn’s General Counsel threatened me that (a) I will be watched; and, (b) Seabourn would sue me for defamation. Kinda ugly isn’t it? That isn’t the facade that Seabourn/Holland America puts out there. As I said to Seabourn’s learned counsel, “Bring it On!” There is an absolute defense to any defamation claim: The Truth! And we know that I speak with honesty, integrity and with an eye towards best protecting my client’s interests…even above my own…whether Seabourn wants to hear it or not!
The New Regime at Seabourn Doesn’t Like Me
To put it succinctly, the new regime at Seabourn doesn’t like me. They don’t like that I call them out. They don’t like that when I see incompetence or worse, I call it like I see it. And if it is really bad, they really hate it when my “Jersey” comes out. (Fuggedaboudit!) So the issue really isn’t what I have done, but – as you will see – what Seabourn has done.
Keep in mind that I, and Goldring Travel, have excellent relationships with every other cruise line. Heck, I have been asked to consult on various levels by Windstar, Explora Journeys, Celebrity and Cunard. In fact, as you will read, almost everyone that was at Seabourn moved to Windstar and Explora Journeys, so its not like the current situation with Seabourn is a result of my “charming personality”. But let me not get ahead of myself.
I know it is hard for those who seem to me to be in way over their heads to accept the criticisms and find ways to use my eagle-eyed work prospectively to their advantage. It seems that so many times the new regime at Seabourn shoots first and then asks questions…leaving me to point out the errors or ridiculousness of what they did with great frustration and at times resentment. (There goes my “Jersey!)
The new regime could have used me as an asset (as literally every other regime at Seabourn did), but instead what I perceive as arrogance caused by insecurity (and/or ego?) has resulted in those adults simply not wanting me to play in the Seabourn sandbox. I mean you would think that it should be seen as an opportunity to fix that which is wrong before it goes out the door and not burden me with “Oh Boy. Here is another Seabourn disaster! What was Seabourn thinking?” and then have to clean up the mess while keeping Seabourn guests who are adversely affected: Loyal to Seabourn. It has been a huge amount of what should have been truly avoidable and unnecessary work.
As a quick aside, I has made numerous inquires about why, with the new regime, there was no Advisory Board like in the old Seabourn days. I mean I was asked to speak with some web designer about the horrific Seabourn website, but that had been about it. To the new regime’s credit, it did form an Advisory Board and I was invited to be on it. Two meeting (which I praised) and then….nothing. Ugh. (I have a Non-Disclosure Agreement so I cannot say what happened in the meetings, but I can say that I was not a lone voice of frustration.)
Why Has This Happened?
It appears that Seabourn can’t deal with me what I see (and you know how accurate I am) as repeated failures, missteps, illogically high prices, exhaustingly long and hard to interpret letters, painfully slow addressing of reservation issues, horrible website, marketing that is basically an antique, etc. – and, most importantly, failures to properly service the Seabourn Guest before they get on a Seabourn ship. While my “Jersey” can make some upset, the reality is that Seabourn blaming me for pushing on these things is not my fault, but rather Seabourn’s. To me, it is a combination of “Shooting the Messenger” and accusing me of “Stepping Under Seabourn’s Feet.”
Who the Heck is Seabourn to Even Suggest that Goldring Travel’s Clients Use Another Travel Agent?!
Before I get into how this came about, I am sure everyone wants and needs to know how it affects Goldring Travel’s clients that are already booked with Seabourn. It is pretty simple: Seabourn will be in contact with you via telephone and email advising you of this significant change and offering to either take over the booking or – intentionally interfering with my relationship with my clients – suggesting it be transferred to another travel agency. And that is just the start of Seabourn’s bad acts: Advising Goldring Travel’s clients to possibly use another travel agent.
First of all, it is not like my clients only sail on Seabourn! My clients sail on Silversea, Windstar, Crystal, Celebrity, Ponant, (soon Explora Journeys), etc., and even the contemporary lines such as Royal Caribbean and NCL. I have clients that book river cruises, African safaris, culinary journeys in Southeast Asia, treks in Iceland, Rocky Mountaineer train journeys, etc.
Secondly, my clients use me to create “journeys”, not just simple cruises. Private Tours, Pre and Post Experiences, Air, Hotels, Transfers, Insurance, etc. all can come into play. (BTW, I tell all of my clients to never book Seabourn’s hotels because I can book them in to the same hotel usually for less than 50% of what Seabourn charges. Do you think Seabourn reservations would tell you that? Absolutely NOT.) See my June 2008 article: It’s Like a Sandwich! Seabourn Spirit – New Ports for 2009
Legally Seabourn’s conduct by suggesting MY client’s use another travel agent, can easily be seen as an unlawful interference with my business advantage. I don’t know if Seabourn’s conduct is intentional, but it on its face it seems to be just another unintended consequence of a poorly conceived idea that wasn’t thought through. But, alas, I am giving Seabourn the benefit of the doubt and most certainly hope it sends out a letter of apology to all of MY clients. (I’m holding back on my “Jersey”.)
NOTE: Consistent with Seabourn’s not thinking something through and checking it before it goes out the door: The 800 number on Seabourn’s letter is incorrect. It is for some sort of medic alert seller. Just another Seabourn adverse effect on Seabourn guests who are calling me wondering if they have been spammed!
Substantively, What is the Effect on Goldring Travel’s Clients Booked with Seabourn?
Substantively, other than Goldring Travel not being able to directly make changes to your Seabourn bookings (or book new Seabourn cruises) nothing has changed. There is no reason to go to another travel agency and – trust me on this – you don’t want to deal with Seabourn directly without my guidance!!!
There is one BIG caveat: Because Seabourn chose, and has the right to, take over Goldring Travel’s bookings – which it didn’t need to do – you will lose all Goldring Travel discounts, amenities and onboard credits, unless your cruise is paid in full as of November 18, 2021, where you will still receive the Goldring Travel Discount, but not necessarily the amenities or onboard credits.) That’s right, that Seabourn letter and telephone call you received didn’t mention that! It would seem to be deceptive, but I am pretty sure it was AGAIN not intentionally so. I say this mostly because – well – it is similar to the current Seabourn’s seemingly omnipresent failure (or inability) to see all of the effects its actions. (Is it time for my “Jersey” yet?)
Another unfortunate consequence of Seabourn taking over Goldring Travel’s bookings: The Goldring Travel 2022 and 2023 Culinary & Cultural Cruises have been cancelled. That is not my choice and I most certainly would have still operated them regardless of whether I was paid. But Seabourn made sure that wouldn’t happen because it cancelled every reservation I had! I will be working on putting together possible alternative Culinary & Cultural Cruises, so standby.
And when you aren’t getting those Goldring Travel discounts, amenities and/or onboard credits remember that Seabourn didn’t need to do it this way. It chose to; essentially “legally kinda sorta steal” thousands and thousands of dollars in Goldring Travel commissions earned upon your final payments. I mean I did all the work to secure those bookings, right? So Seabourn will line its pockets with Goldring Travel’s commissions plus rather than protect you – The Seabourn Guest – from any negative impact from its own avoidable decision it is going to take more money from you in non-discounted higher cruise fares. (Are you starting to go “Jersey”?)
Seabourn should, at a minimum, honor the pricing and amenities on Goldring Travel’s invoices. Remember, it costs Seabourn nothing because it has taken away my commissions! You might want to speak with Seabourn about that!
Why Did Seabourn Black List Goldring Travel?
I am sure you can partially answer that question without my saying another word! But it is, alas, more of a symptom of what I have seen as a growing cancer. Seriously!
For a great background on Seabourn and its original philosophy check out my article: A Historical and Introspective Look at Seabourn Cruise Line – Goldring Travel
I have worked with Seabourn since, I believe, 2003. You know back when there were the three little sisters: Seabourn Pride, Legend, and Spirit (now renovated and stretched sailing for Windstar…and better than ever!) Back then we were a family and everyone took care of everyone else…right down to sending brownies and cookies at Christmas with a note for one particular person (no names!) to share them! LOL
I began making friends with Seabourn staff and officers, as well as Seabourn’s wonderful president, Debbie Nathanson, who even assisted me with arranging a burial at sea for a longtime Seabourn guest. Heck, I remain friends with captains, some long retired or passed away, from back in those days. And that is where I first met most of the now executives at Windstar cruises…but I don’t want to get ahead of myself!
I was asked input on the development of and sales for the Seabourn Odyssey (I was the one that suggested the term “The Yacht of Seabourn” needed to be dropped because the Seabourn Odyssey was too large to be called a yacht.) And I was in Venice unwrapping furniture in advance of its first guests boarding, followed by a wonderful dinner with Captain Karlo Buer.
As you know, this sort of intimate relationship existed for years…and then in 2011 Carnival Corp. decided to merge Seabourn’s operations with Holland America. This is where the corporate mentality (cancer) of, “Who do you think you are. We know everything!” started. And I would counter with, “That is NOT Seabourn!” Oh boy was there some tough times.
I remember a long, fairly heated, conversation with Rick Meadows and John Delaney where Rick “told” me how things were going to be. Well, you know what I did? I took Seabourn off of my website and refused to sell it anymore. And you know what happened? My mantra of “That’s Not Seabourn” became omnipresent and a number of things changed and I could once again advocate for the product.
But what didn’t change was the Seabourn senior executive attitude…except for John Delaney. He drank the Kool-Aid. He got it. Then he started to butt heads with Rick Meadows, et al. And then he left Seabourn to be the new president of Windstar Cruises.
And then do you know what happened? Virtually every one of the old Seabourn regime left Seabourn. Not because they didn’t love the onboard product or wanted a change. They just needed to get out of that toxic environment. Most of them wound up at Windstar. And with that the Holland America corporate approach became even more instilled.
So then new blood was brought in. Chris Austin came in a SVP of Global Sales. What a breath of fresh air. He didn’t need to drink the Kool-Aid. Heck, he made the Kool-Aid! Things at Seabourn were looking up! I used to say to Chris, “Don’t you leave me!” As you will see, he did!
If you read through the public domain you can see that Seabourn wasn’t doing great financially and eventually Rick Meadows was let go…and in my opinion, it should have happened earlier, though I am not sure it might not have resulted in even more corporate culture. Here is a good article: Rick Meadows Retires as President of Seabourn…and Seabourn Will Survive and Thrive. – Goldring Travel
Eventually Chris too left Seabourn of his own volition to help start-up, Explora Journeys, where his stifled-at-Seabourn concepts could be implemented from the ground (sea?) up! Seabourn’s new Director of North American Sales, who came over from Royal Caribbean Group, and who was brought in by Chris also left Seabourn after a brief stint.
Enter Covid and the new regime. Actually, it is hard to call it a “regime” because there were (and are) only a few still at Seabourn. Josh Leibowitz was named president. I won’t give you my opinion of Josh’s approach and lack of experience running a cruise line, no less something as special as Seabourn. This is from Josh’s LinkedIn page: “Analytically-driven leader with 25 years of experience running companies… a leader in the firm’s work in advanced analytics and profit transformations…My work included due diligence and deal support for private equity and investment companies.” He worked for Carnival Corp. and then Cunard in obvious roles before being assigned Seabourn. (Nothing like continually keeping within the corporation!)
Suffice it to say it took Josh long over a month – even after prodding – to even say Hello to me. It speaks for itself. And as they say, “You have to give respect to get respect.”
What Brought the “Jersey” Out? It is a Very Long List!
I am not going to bother you with the litany of totally avoidable errors and SMH moments. But here are a few:
Seabourn decided to make new deck plans for all its ships. It didn’t seek my advice or, from what I can tell, anyone that actually sold Seabourn or was intimately familiar with the ships. It was a disaster. You literally would have to upgrade two categories to secure one of the least desirable suites locations on the ship. Interconnecting suites were in different categories, etc. Some of the most desirable suites were now some of the least expensive. And the list goes on. Seabourn told me there was data to support this disaster…and clearly there wasn’t any data, but only a ruler. Yup, in the end it was admitted that the plan was to have all the ships (Odyssey, Encore, and Venture classes) align their categories with the forward elevator. Huh?
Guess what happened: Seabourn changed the deck plans per my comments and Josh Leibowitz had Carnival Corp.’s Ethics Counsel interview me because I said whoever did the deck plans and said there was data was either incompetent or lying. I mean I don’t work for Carnival Corp. and why would I sugarcoat such a disaster when I was told it was based on data?
Seabourn decided to cancel the Seabourn Quest’s Antarctica for 2021-2 and offered the guests no replacement cruise. With many bookings being mine, I wasn’t too pleased. Eventually Seabourn decided it would offer guests on those 21-25 day expedition cruises a 10-12 day cruise in 2022-3 on the Seabourn Venture “at the same rate”. Rate is something like $1,000 per day. But when my clients went to rebook it wasn’t at the same rate, but the same price. So they would be receiving a 10-12 day expedition for the same price as their 21-25 day expedition cruise. Clearly I wasn’t happy…and most all of those Seabourn guests weren’t either. While some have taken the offer, from what I understand most have not.
But there is more to this! I have had conflicts with Revenue Management and Sales for years because the prices are just too high to sell them effectively. Want proof? How could there be so many suites left on the Venture’s Inaugural Antarctica sailings that they could absorb all of the Quest guests? Easy: Bad Pricing. So I said something.
Seabourn decided that for a large number of Covid-paused sailings it would lock up the bookings and rebook all the guests into the same cruise the following year. It didn’t matter than I knew that the vast majority of my clients wouldn’t want to do that. I also knew that putting my clients in the position of having money on a 2023 cruise and then having to shell out even more money on a 2022 cruise was both unfair and seemingly (at least to me) a bit sleazy. Plus for my clients that wanted to cancel and book something new, I couldn’t do that for over a month because the bookings were locked. Think about how much effort went into keeping the Seabourn guest’s money and what I had to do to assuage them while also trying to get them traveling in 2022! So I said something.
Or what about those long confusing letters that even I, as an experienced attorney, could hardly understand. So I said, why can’t say it in six sentences that people can understand. Oooops!
And then there are the issues with Seabourn Air. It used to be that there were dedicated people in air and then there was FlightEase, which overall is an excellent product. But when an actual Princess Air representative books a client directly with a 10+ hour layover…and does it in the wrong city…and then has the client pay again over $5,000 for air it had already paid for – and I was forced to spend hours cleaning it up – Ya think I might say something? To me this smacks of bad training and/or hiring the wrong people and/or having people that normally book simple domestic economy tickets trying to book complex international tickets. I mean how could Seabourn do that to a guest? So I said something.
The Unspoken Apparent Truth
Hidden in all this is a very disturbing trend: Seabourn’s separating our mutual guest/client from the travel agent. Messages going directly to my clients. Allowing my clients to book air directly with Seabourn. Taking payments directly from my clients. Rebooking my clients on cruises they don’t want. And the list goes on. Seabourn says its is because some of th4e large agencies Ya think I said something?
I offered to service all of Goldring Travel’s existing bookings and only make contact via generic requests via email so that the impact on Goldring Travel’s clients/Seabourn guests would be minimally impacted. That was immediately rejected. So you should know that there was a simple way to fully protect Seabourn’s guests, but Seabourn apparently is more focused on causing damage to me and Goldring Travel. Oh well.
I entitled this article: Seabourn/Holland America Nightmare is Over…For Me. That is a bit optimistic, but to a great extent it is true. There are issues that need to be appropriately resolved from commissions to encouraging my clients to use a different travel agent to Seabourn’s harming my business.
And all this is unfortunate for two reasons. One is the end of 20 years of loyalty and promotion Seabourn not only has come to an end, it has come to an end due to what I perceive as insecure, misfocused and not sufficiently experienced corporate devotees that don’t use the resources available to them.
But mostly it is the tragedy that the Seabourn onboard product remains fantastic. The officers, staff and crew are amazing humans. They work so hard, and put their hearts into providing, “This is Seabourn.”
I shall close with what I have been saying for far too long, “The Seabourn Pre-Cruise Experience needs to match the Seabourn Cruise Experience”. It has been quite the ordeal trying – on a daily basis – to overcome all of the obstacles that the leadership at Seabourn has put in the way so that my clients have that consistent experience.
Now I can go back to actually enjoying what I do…just with cruise, expedition and land tour companies that can do both!