Saturday,  November 27, 2021  2:35 pm

HAL's president Orlando Ashford navigates "balancing act" in growing cruise market

HAL's president Orlando Ashford navigates "balancing act" in growing cruise market
Of Holland America Line: Denella Ri’chard, senior director, trade communications and engagement; Lori Patterson, BDM; Orlando Ashford, president; KK Robbins, cruise & travel director; Mary Goldsmith, BDM; Bill Prince, VP – entertainment and enrichment.
Blake Wolfe

Blake Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and editor, who joined PAX after nearly 10 years in Canada’s newspaper industry. In addition to PAX, his work has been featured in publications such as the Metroland Media group of newspapers and the Toronto Sun.

For Holland America Line President Orlando Ashford, future growth is a balancing act between welcoming more cruisers aboard the line with new innovations, while retaining those travellers that have come to know and love the HAL experience.

Ashford was in Toronto on Nov. 26 for a travel trade engagement luncheon, during which he took time to meet with trade media for a pre-event roundtable discussion. Following a recent restructuring that has seen HAL’s sales teams report directly to him, Ashford’s hands-on approach is reflected in HAL’s travel trade engagement strategy, which will see him more directly involved in reaching out to agents, who he says are responsible for 75 per cent of all HAL bookings. In addition, agents can expect more trade events and webinars over the coming months, he said.

Heading into 2020, Ashford said that the overall sales strategy is to bring new ideas to the table while retaining the line’s signature look and feel.

“Clearly there’s a lot this brand has done well for a long time,” Ashford said. “We want to create some new energy to the brand, while maintaining our existing and very loyal customers.”

HAL in 2020

According to Ashford, the main challenge is communicating the re-imagined HAL brand to the trade and their clients. While some agents may still perceive HAL as a cruise geared toward mature guests, he said that hasn’t been the case for several years.

“I want to accelerate how well people know the new Holland America Line,” he said. “We’re fighting some perceptions that go back more than 10 years and I want to be really clear: our guests tend to be 55-plus and we love older and mature guests. They have the time and money to enjoy our experience and our product is structured that way. Where I get frustrated is where people equate ‘old’ with quiet, boring and slow. That’s not what people 55-plus want – they want to engage and be engaged.”

When it comes to bringing new experiences on board, Ashford said that the line is balancing the interests of new and younger cruisers with that existing mature market. He cited the example of HAL’s new High Score! gaming centre aboard the Oosterdam, which eschews the latest modern video games in favour of classic amusements such as foosball and skeeball.

“It was going to be a young person’s space during the day and family time at night,” he explained. “But our regular guests were like ‘I haven’t seen one of those in forever!’ Families are engaging in games the way they used to and the young people still appreciate it. That’s delivering in a Holland America Line style – celebrating the things that are a little classic but are delivered in a modern setting that creates engagement for multiple generations.”

Bridging the gap

While Ashford said that HAL isn’t planning to add any over-the-top features to its ships – “We’re not whiz-bang – we’re not putting rocket ships and slides on top of the ship,” he joked – the line will instead focus on a series of “swim lanes,” specifically destinations, cuisine, entertainment and service. Many of the line’s signature features – from live music experiences such as BB King’s Blues Bar and Lincoln Center Stage to restaurants such as Tamarind – are featured in one form or another across the entire fleet, eliminating the “old ship/new ship” dynamic which can be a challenge for cruise lines looking to fill cabins across their fleets.

In situations where space doesn’t allow for the latest venues to be installed permanently on older vessels, Ashford explained that pop-up experiences provide an innovative solution, such as bringing items from the Tamarind menu on board ships not equipped with the full restaurant.

“We have partners who sell HAL with confidence but we have others who haven’t been on one of our ships in 10 years; if you’re selling from the perspective of 10 years ago, there’s an even better experience available now,” Ashford said. “If you like destinations and exploring, food and music, and you like being served, you will like Holland America Line. I say that with confidence.”

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