Windstar talks growth in Canada, new 2018 itineraries

Windstar talks growth in Canada, new 2018 itineraries
Steven Kona Simao, VP - sales, Windstar Cruises

New ships and new itineraries are on the horizon for Windstar Cruises, as the small-ship cruise line continues to grow its presence in the Canadian marketplace.

Windstar’s Vice-President of Sales Steven Kona Simao was in Toronto this week, during which PAX sat down with the VP for an exclusive chat on the brand’s growth in Canada and what the future holds for Windstar.

The Seattle-based cruise line recently appointed Canadian travel industry veteran Andrea Mendelsohn as its regional sales manager for Canada, who will continue to grow the Windstar name north of the border. According to Kona Simao, while the line has been “relatively unknown” to Canadian agents, the brand is at “the tip of the iceberg” in terms of booking potential in Canada, due to what he described as an alignment of the Windstar product with the Canadian travel mentality. He added that while the majority of bookings have traditionally come from American travellers (95 per cent of Windstar bookings are made in North America, Kona Simao said), Canadian business has grown faster than the U.S. in recent years.

“Canadians like more exotic destinations and longer cruise lengths; they’re also more willing to travel further than their U.S. counterparts,” Kona Simao explained. “The other thing about Canadians is that they tend to like quality without pretense; they want to travel in style but not with the stuffiness of many other upscale products.”

While much of that Canadian business has come from the southern Ontario market, Kona Simao explained that the Canadian growth strategy is very much a nationwide initiative, adding that Windstar is eyeing the potential in Alberta as that province’s economy continues to recover.

Regarding Windstar’s recent addition of Asia and Middle East cruises, Kona Simao said that bookings have been extremely strong across North America. Japan in particular has been a popular new destination for Windstar, becoming the line’s most successful cruises, Kona Simao explained, adding that the 2018 cruises are almost entirely sold out already.

“Half of our guests on any given cruise are past guests,” Kona Simao said, “and we’ve been going to the same destinations for a very long time; they’ve been craving some new things to do and see, so this will give them something new while diversifying our own portfolio to catch new people. Not everyone wants to go to the Caribbean or Europe.

(From left) Andrea Mendelsohn, regional sales manager - Canada, Windstar Cruises; Nancy Benetton-Sampath, associate vice-president, LogiMonde Media; Steven Kona Simao, VP - sales, Windstar Cruises.

New additions for the coming cruise season (the new brochure will be released in September) include Windstar’s return to Alaska for the first time in 20 years, along with a new series of Canada and New England cruises aboard the Star Pride. Windstar’s summer Europe program will also feature cruises passing the Arctic Circle and visiting the North Cape for the first time.

Windstar’s President’s Cruise to the Philippines will take place aboard the Star Legend on Jan. 6, 2018, Kona Simao said, where guests will join Windstar President John Delaney and Star Legend godmother Gloria Bohan. The cruise will also feature shore excursions lead by the ship’s Filipino crew members.

Kona Simao also hinted at another new destination to be added to Windstar’s 2018-19 season, which will be revealed in the near future.

For Canadian agents interested in selling Windstar to their clients, Kona Simao said that effective storytelling goes a long way in communicating the on-board experience to travellers who are yet to cruise with Windstar. Agents can also sign up for Windstar’s Star Promise program, offering training and the opportunity to take part in FAMs and earn bonus commissions.

“Windstar is sold by storytelling and it’s about understanding the brand and what makes us different,” he said, highlighting features such as the smaller ship capacities, absence of formality and a focus on exploration of destinations with fewer days at sea. “Get to know the details, sail with us and develop your own Windstar stories to your clients.”

“We’re committed to the travel agent community,” Kona Simao continued. “The benefit of a travel agent to a customer isn’t about price; it’s not even about service. It’s about the expertise they provide. I think a person will book with a travel agent if that agent can give them that expertise and that will be more and more important as we go forward. There's a number of cruisers who buy the wrong product because they were misguided or because they tried to do it themselves.”

And while the small-ship feel will be retained (Windstar’s ships have a capacity of 300 guests or less), the line will continue to grow.

“Windstar cruises will be growing – it’s not a matter of ‘if’ but ‘when,” Kona Simao said.