Crystal Cruise Lines was recently voted 'World's Best Large-Ship Cruise Line' in a passenger survey. Thomas Mazloum, senior vice president of hotel operations for Crystal Cruises, talks to Ilene Grifen about how his cruise line ensures its guests receive the services and facilities they deserve.
Crystal Cruises has long been recognised for its innovative upscale product and amenities, including one of the first spas at sea. Recently, Crystal Cruises received honours no other cruise line has achieved. The upscale line was voted, for the tenth consecutive year, for consistent excellence of its luxury travel experience the World's Best Large-Ship Cruise Line in Travel + Leisure magazine's annual readers' survey.
Thomas Mazloum, senior vice president of hotel operations for Crystal Cruises, says this award means a lot to him personally, particularly because it was the passengers' vote. Keeping his guests happy is his main goal.
"We are very proud that we won the Travel + Leisure award, which speaks for one thing: our consistency," he says. "We are fortunate and pleased to have received such a meaningful award."
Having been in his current position for three years, Austrian-born Mazloum has also spent nine years in various positions on board Crystal ships, an experience that has given him an inside view of what the line's guests are looking for. Speaking while on the Crystal Serenity near Sicily, Italy, Mazloum explains how his background benefits Crystal guests. "I was practically brought up on board. I went from clearings officer to beverage manager, to restaurant manager, then hotel manager and hotel director.
"This has given me a good understanding of how ships operate, what works and what doesn't. I think this is very important in looking after our guests. The years on our ships have prepared me well for the brand, the product, the guests and the crew, and what all their needs and wants are."
RAISING THE BAR
Despite the awards, Mazloum is not one to rest on his laurels and he speaks about always improving the cruise experience for guests. "We get first-time Crystal cruisers who heard about us from a number of magazines, so when they come on board, their expectations are very high," he says. "When a line is completely unknown, it may be easier to exceed someone's expectations than when you already have a great reputation, so we are challenged continuously to what I call 'perform precisely as promised'."
During the past year, the innovative cruise line has added several new features to its services. These include expanded dining options, unique cultural and adventure shore-side programmes called Crystal Adventures, and Wine Makers dinners in its new Vintage Rooms. Even a new 'pillow menu' is being offered for a customised sleep experience.
"By bringing in these enrichment programmes and continually being innovative, such as featuring Nobu cuisine on the Crystal Serenity, we stay on top of what people want," says Mazloum. "They expect us to have the best. They expect quality linen, such as Egyptian cotton sheets, down pillows, plush duvets and feather beds. They expect beautiful bone china and Frette bathrobes. For the boomer generation especially, these are standard."
THE CRYSTAL ATTITUDE
Mazloum says wanting and expecting these and other amenities is what sets the Crystal guest apart from other cruisers. "What they want is what I call the "Crystal attitude", where guests are treated as if they are the most important person of the day," he explains. "Our guests expect not only flawless service, but also polished service, and that it is genuine. By that, I mean they want to have the feeling that the people who serve them want to do it, not because they have to."
To make sure its passengers receive this treatment, Crystal is particular about the staff it recruits. "We have a recruitment philosophy that we hire by attitude and we train by skills," Mazloum explains. "We want the best."
While Crystal once attracted mainly seniors, this is no longer the case. "Because the market is different today, one size doesn't fit all anymore," says Mazloum. "We are seeing more luxury travellers – the baby boomers – whose demands are different from prior generations. We still have the loyal Crystal guest, who was with the company from day one, as well as new ones. These are completely different generations so we must adjust to their needs."
He explains how the requirements of the older generation differ from those of the baby boomers. "The older passengers expect a certain amount of options and choices. Today, it is no big deal to have alternate dining options, but when we first started out 15 years ago, it was pretty radical to have, for example, two different restaurants – one Asian and one Italian.
"Now, it is expected that there will be a series of options. The boomers want space, they don't want to be around large crowds and they want to feel they are getting an intimate service, even though it is a large ship. And unlike the older generations, the boomers want it now – they don't have any patience for mistakes."
Crystal attracts cruisers from all over the world, but Mazloum has not experienced any problems in catering to their varying tastes. "We do not see much difference in the needs and wants of North American and European guests," he explains. "We have 80% North American guests as well as English, Australian and Asians. Within Asia, there is Japanese, Taiwanese, and people from China on the ships, which gives the cruise a nice international flair.
"Of course there are differences, such as tastes in entertainment. But no matter what their background is, most guests know what first-class entertainment is and what great service is, and they can't be fooled."
Many cruise passengers have travelled widely, and this, Mazloum feels, provides them with an awareness of what to expect from a luxury holiday. "They have been around the world and know what is going on," he explains. "We are very fortunate in the way that we have always maintained a focus on what is important to the luxury cruiser, and how to continue the high-level service in all we do.
"We have to be consistent, not only in terms of the product, but with our officers and crew. Our success in this area is reflected in the low turnover of staff, which benefits our repeat guests. They are often recognised individually, which is very important as this make them feel special."
According to Mazloum, in addition to the boomers, Crystal is increasingly attracting younger cruisers, including children. A recent Mediterranean cruise on the Crystal Serenity was sold out, and of the 980 guests, there were over 70 children and 60 teenagers. Of guests cruising the Mediterranean, 70% are now aged below 55.
EXCLUSIVE LAND PROGRAMMES
The passengers who select Crystal Cruises also have high expectations for the shore-side experience. "People come to us for exclusivity, and there is also a big trend for something private," notes Mazloum. "Many people no longer want to be with a large group; they want a memorable exclusive experience and they don't mind paying for it.
"For example, we recently offered a shore excursion that lets guests take a 35-minute flight from St Petersburg to Moscow in a Russian MiG Fighter Jet for about $15,000. We also offer an exclusive tour of the Sistine Chapel available to a party of just eight. This is done exclusively for us. When the ship docks in a European port such as Warmunde in Germany, many choose to take a charter flight to Berlin for the day – they don't just expect a traditional city tour."
Crystal Cruises' land programmes are unique, according to Mazloum. "When we went to New Zealand this year, instead of the traditional tour where passengers attend a banquet, we took them to a movie set, where Lord of the Rings was filmed and recreated a scene for them, which ended in fireworks," he explains. "This kind of experience has to be different, it has to be memorable and exclusive."
The popularity of this kind of shore-side activity is increasing in the high-end luxury market, and Crystal also makes sure that the level of quality is similar to the activities and services experiences on board. "The spa has been completely rebuilt from scratch on all ships and what we are seeing now is a trend in classes such as Tai Chi; there is no resistance to high-end treatment," says Mazloum. "People are willing to spend $140 or $200 for a lemon ginger scrub or the coconut wrap and massage. They want to indulge themselves. We also make overnight stops in ports, so guests can make the most of their destinations."
According to Mazloum, it is understanding who its customers are and exceeding their expectations that keeps Crystal customers coming back for more. "You should always be better tomorrow than you are today," he says. "Crystal has a very strong focus on what our customer wants today and what the customer will want tomorrow. That is why our guests keep coming back and new ones appear every year."