Crystal Cruises will be relaunched by Abercrombie & Kent Travel Group next year, but what that means for travel advisors with unpaid commissions and customers holding future cruise credits is unknown.
A&K Travel Group will take over the Crystal brand and its two luxury cruise ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony.
The ships, which were purchased for a total of $128 million, are set to return to service as Crystal Cruises next year after undergoing extensive refurbishments.
A&K Travel was known to be a contender for Crystal ships. Its owners include Heritage Group, whose chairman Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio had publicly expressed an interest in Crystal following the liquidation of the line’s former parent company, Genting Hong Kong.
“I am thrilled to begin this new chapter and to be back in an industry that has always had, and always will have, a special place in my heart,” said Lefebvre, whose family founded Silversea Cruises. “When the opportunity arose to acquire Crystal Cruises, I didn’t think twice about it.”
Cristina Levis, CEO of A&K Travel Group, will oversee both Abercrombie & Kent and Crystal Cruises. In a statement, she called the acquisition “extremely difficult, but the satisfaction of having this gem in our family is the best reward for all the hard work and effort of the A&K team.”
A&K, which specializes in private and small group tours and luxury vacations, offers private jet charter tours, chartered river and small boat cruises, and chartered expedition cruises.
The fate of Crystal’s expedition ship is still unclear. Reports say it was sold to Silversea. Levis said A&K was not interested in Crystal’s riverboats.
Unpaid commissions and customers with FCC
What the agreement means for travel advisors with unpaid commissions and guests holding future cruise credits (FCC) is still unknown.
Levis did not respond to a June 22 request for information on how the company plans to approach customers and travel agents who lost commissions and credits after Crystal collapsed in February.
Signature Travel Network CEO Alex Sharpe said A&K and Lefebvre are well positioned to revive the brand, but there are “bigger fences to mend” with agents and guests on these lost commissions and potentially worthless FCCs.
“To truly resurrect this brand, it will take a lot of work on all fronts for us to endorse and support the ‘new Crystal,’ but I look forward to those conversations with our old industry friend,” Sharpe said de Lefebvre.
Dallas-based luxury agent Dennis Nienkerk said he personally lost a $7,000 FCC and doubted he would ever get it back. Crystal enjoys immense customer loyalty, he said, but he said he thinks the older Crystal ships – the Symphony was built in 1995 and the Serenity in 2003 – will have to compete in the upmarket segment with Oceania and Azamara rather than in the luxury sector against more recent tonnage at Seabourn, Silversea and Regent Seven Seas Cruises.
“If A&K can duplicate the Crystal standards and I hear good feedback from cruisers, I’ll market them, but I won’t make any special effort because there are so many other things that are better,” Nienkerk said.
Can they get the crew back?
Tom Baker, president of CruiseCenter in Houston and one of A&K and Crystal’s top producers, called the partnership “spectacular.”
“I couldn’t think of a better alliance,” he said, adding that A&K’s land assets in nearly 100 countries will enable it to deliver high-quality excursions and unique land experiences.
He added that he was in “wait-and-see mode” about whether he would support the new Crystal. “I want to see what the blueprint is and what they’re telling us they’re going to do, and I’m going to look at the deliverables.”
Questions remain, he said, about whether the new owners can deliver the Crystal product.
“Ships are beautiful,” he said. “They’re going to refurbish them and probably do some really amazing things. Will they be able to get the crew back together? The entertainment, who was the best in the business? If they can get the entertainment and the right members returning crew, they will have a winning combination.”
The interest of Baker’s Crystal customers is already piqued.
“This morning I had clients write to me, some of them had a few choice words and said, ‘I won’t touch it until I get my 100,000 back,’ and then a few other people have written to me and said like as soon as they have the trips let me know I’m good to go.”
An industry consultant predicted that A&K would not attempt to honor commissions, deposits, or FCCs.
“They had nothing to do with Crystal and what happened,” said Anthony Kaufman, a cruise consultant who worked for Carnival Corp. “Manfredi is highly respected and forward-looking. However, for good business reasons, they will want to keep everyone happy and may give some form of incentive to former Crystal customers, and I’m sure they will. will target other ways to get them back.”
Nicole Edenedo and Johanna Jainchill contributed to this report.