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A veranda suite aboard a Silversea cruise
Roberto Martinoli, President and CEO of Silversea Cruises, loves to travel. He spends his free time on the water either on his 36-foot motorboat or on a Silversea cruise, the ultra-luxury line with all-suite vessels. For the cruise industry, COVID has been a game changer with no industry hit harder, including the luxury lines. Who better to address this than Silversea’s CEO, Robert Martinoli. I caught up with him via Zoom where he was onboard the sailboat of his good friend Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio, former owner of Silversea. The two friends were cruising in the south of Italy.
Would you say it's safe to cruise now?
The perception of cruising has changed. At the beginning of this pandemic, there was a very weird and bad perception about the danger of being on a cruise ship. I'm pretty convinced we've been able to reverse the perception. And if you must be somewhere in an environment with other people, you want to be on a cruise ship because we do have incredibly strong procedures. We have a very well-organized system to control people and to make sure everything is done right.
When will the Silversea fleet return to sailing and will passengers have to wear masks?
We have two ships sailing now. Most of the fleet will be back by the end of the year. In Europe, if you are inside, unless consuming, you must wear a mask in any building. In most places outside, masks are no longer required. I expect these measures to be more relaxed in the weeks and months to come.
Silver Wind sails beneath the Tower Bridge of London
Simon Harvey Photography Ltd
What about onboard your ships? Are masks required?
If you are working inside the ship or in a public space, you need to wear a mask. If you are in a restaurant, of course, you remove the mask. We are all looking forward to seeing those measures be more relaxed.
When will your other ships return to cruise?
We have a ship going from Seattle to Alaska on July 29th and will also be starting cruises in Iceland. In November we’ll operate in Antarctica. Most of the fleet will be back by the end of the year.
A puffin in Iceland seen on a Silversea Cruise
The two ships sailing now are in Greece and the Galapagos. Can passengers deboard for excursions?
Yes. We ask all passengers and crew to be fully vaccinated to access our vessel and guests can free-roam in any destination that we visit, provided the destination allows it. There are no restrictions in Greece and the Galapagos. Alaska and Iceland will be the same. More and more destinations are opening, and as the vaccination rates increase, guests are free to move as they wish.
Do the crew and all passengers need to be vaccinated and show proof?
Yes, everyone must be fully vaccinated at least 14 days before entering the ship.
Silversea passengers in a close-up encounter with an Orca
Land excursions are obviously safe in the remote Galapagos and Alaska, but what about places which are more citified and less wild? Are land excursions available or is it different with every cruise?
We are making sure our land excursions are properly organized. Everyone who participates in the excursion is tested regularly or needs to give proof of vaccination. If we go to a restaurant, the proper protocols and procedures are in place. If we go to a museum, the same. We want to be sure that what we do is done with very good protocols, guaranteeing that there is a bubble environment for the people to go out.
Passengers relaxing at pool during a Silversea cruise
When do your return guests usually book cruises?
Our guests tend to book quite a bit ahead of time. They are not last-minute bookers as a rule, though there are some last-minute requests because people are so anxious to get back to cruising. We have very strong medical departments and we'll be doubling medical facilities on board and increasing the staff there. We have agreements with the shore side structure in the unlikely occasion that someone becomes ill. We are very well organized and know how to handle anyone who might get sick. Guests on board see this and feel extremely comfortable.
A couple walking into a Silversea ship's restaurant
Now that cruising is coming back, when should first-timers book a cruise?
Now. Bookings started coming back quite nicely as of last December. In the last seven months we've had better than previous years' bookings. We have very strong bookings for 2022 and for 2023 as there is a lot of consumer confidence for cruising next year. We are now seeing better than normal booking trends because people have a great desire to go back to their cruising experiences. The protocols are changing a little but the reaction from passengers is positive. Our net promoter scores have never been so high and what we are seeing is extremely positive.
Do you think that cruising will be almost back to normal by 2022?
If things continue to go as they are, 2022 is going to be a very good year. There might be some exception for some destination where there are still some challenges with the virus so we need to change the way we do business somewhere in the world. But in general terms, what we see is good.
Passengers on a Silversea cruise safely encounter a bear in Russia
You have 10 ships in the Silversea fleet, counting the Silver Dawn, which will still launch this November?
Yes. She will start in the Mediterranean and then go to South America, the Caribbean. We can't wait to be there!
How many passengers does the smallest ship hold and how many does the largest ship hold?
The smallest is the Silver Origin with 100 passengers, and the largest is the Silver Spirit with 608 passengers.
Was Silversea the first to create luxury expedition sailing, and did they also introduce caviar on board?
Yes, caviar is part of the beautiful service that we give to our guests. They can visit incredibly beautiful and remote destinations with great creature comforts. This is what we want to give people, and they love it. When you are going to Antarctica, you come back from an excursion to caviar and champagne. Your butler takes care of you. We are serious about giving an ultra-luxury service on board but also serious about expeditions.
Humpback whales in Greenland seen from onboard Silver Cloud
What percentage of the cruising population do you think prefer a luxury ship as opposed to a cheaper one?
Our price point is between four and 10 times the price of the mass market cruise experience. I would say 100% of the those who cruise aspire to go on an ultra-luxury vessel. The filter is the ability and to be able to spend this type of money. Also, our cruises are longer, on average, 10.5 days. The mass market is less than seven days, so it's a different proposition in terms of price and length of the vacation experience.
After dinner drinks onboard a Silversea Cruise
Silversea thinks of itself as a five-star hotel, all-inclusive, floating from one destination to the next, all over the world. Is alcohol included?
Yes. If you want Dom Pérignon, you pay extra, but very good French champagne and caviar is included. And most of the dining experiences are included. Our included wines are exceptionally good. My personal wine cellar is based on the wines that we include because I don't want to spend too much money but I want great wines.
Restaurant La Terrazza, Silver Spirit
What's new on board? Are there new amenities that most people don't know about?
We've been launching the S.A.L.T. (Sea And Land Taste) program, a culinary program on board which gives guests the ability to experience the flavor of the destination. We have a restaurant called S.A.L.T. and a bar and a laboratory with cooking tables where two chefs teach and introduce guests to the beautiful culinary experiences of the destination. They also organize short excursions to visit places having to do with local food and beverage. We want to get the guests deep into the destination.
Silversea's itineraries encompass all seven continents. Are you the only cruise company to do so?
If not the only, one among the very few that touch the seven continents every year. We offer the largest variety of destinations at any given time, offering from 900 to almost a thousand different destinations. Also, every cruise is different because almost a third of our business is people wanting back-to-back cruises and we don't want to give them a repeated itinerary.
Silver Cloud Owner's Suite
Where do you think the cruise industry is headed?
This one and a half year has given us the ability to think more about the future. We are doing a lot in terms of sustainability which is going to be a very big item. We have started designing new classes of ships that will be very revolutionary, particularly in our segment of the market. Cruising has great demand, and we are also now getting demand from emerging countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, India and China.
What is your vision for Silversea?
We want to make sure that we continue to give this exceptional level of service. If we make sure our guests can explore the world and give them the real essence of the destination that we are visiting, we will continue to be successful.
Sunset on a Silversea Antarctic voyage
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