A Sit-Down with Gordon Dirker

Regional Greek cruise line, Celestyal Cruises, is expanding its offerings this year and into 2020/2021 as it turns its focus on year-round departures. The once seasonal, all-inclusive operator will see its two ships sailing for a longer season on its Greek Islands itineraries plus regional Eastern Mediterranean offerings and Adriatic voyages for the first time.

Travel Market Report sat down with Gordon Dirker, VP, business development, North America, for Celestyal Cruises, to hear the details about the cruise line’s latest moves and how travel advisors can best to sell it. 

Travel Market Report: How can agents position Celestyal as the best choice for sailing the Greek Islands and the Eastern Mediterranean? What are its unique selling points (USPs)?
Gordon Dirker: First, Celestyal delivers the destination both on and off the ship. We have insider connections. We are a Greek cruise line and the preeminent home porting cruise line out of Athens. We know the culture, food and wine — and where you should be exploring.

Second is the all-inclusive aspect. We are truly all-inclusive and customers technically don’t have to touch their wallet at all during the entire cruise. We include tips, the port charges, two shore excursions on shorter cruises and three on longer ones, plus onboard drinks, meals, and shows.

Third, we visit places that a few of our friendly competitors don’t go. Milos, for example, is not on the radar of most Americans, and it is truly a beautiful and unique Greek island.

Fourth, we have mid-sized ships. With Celestyal, the destination is the hero and our two ships are a wonderful way to explore. If you go to places like Santorini with a ship of 5,000, it’s like an invasion. If you are there with a vessel of 900 people, it is a lot more pleasant.

TMR: How is ‘the destination the hero’ on Celestyal?
GD: We offer local immersive excursions. Our seven-night “Idyllic Aegean” itinerary features a slow pace to discover the Greek Islands, with overnights in Mykonos and Santorini. If you’re in port for longer, you have every opportunity to explore. The fast-paced 3- or 4-night “Iconic Aegean” itineraries are often booked combining multi-European destinations. If agents were to book three- and four-night trips to Greece on their own, it would take a lot of time to cut-and-paste ferry boats and hotels. We offer an off-the-shelf island-hopping program. Our new “3 Continents” voyage is a good bucket list of destinations featuring Greece, Turkey, Cyprus, Israel and Egypt.

TMR: What onboard features of Celestyal can help agents close a sale?
GD: Celestyal recently invested over 6 million euros on our two ships, including refurbishment of public areas and suites. We have a Greek deli on deck where we have Greek barbecues. We weave in the destination in our entertainment, with Greek mythology and Greek dancing. We do a demonstration of a Greek wedding in a show format. It all speaks to where you are.

TMR: Who is the right client for Celestyal Cruises?
GD: Our cruises are for travelers, people who like to travel the world. Travel agents should look in their database for who they sold a river cruise to; we are like river cruises, where you are close to the action in town, and shore excursions are often included. They should also look at tour customers; there is so much sightseeing and learning involved that our cruises are similar to what you get on an escorted tour. The heritage market is also big; those with Greek blood want to explore the country and their ancestry.

TMR: What about group business?
GD: We do a lot of religious groups, following the footsteps of Paul, with priests coming with their groups. Celestyal can custom-design excursions for both groups and individuals. We have all the local contacts. Private excursions can easily be done with local setups and connections.

TMR: Why did Celestyal decide to look into year-round sailings?
GD: In order for us to grow as a company, we need to become year-round. Up until last year, our ships were closed for winter and it was very costly. It also allows us to retain our crew year-round. We are able to venture to new destinations, with itineraries including Venice, which as a small ship, is no problem, and sail all the way to Croatia and Greece. We are still 99% in the Eastern Med, and the majority is Greek Islands, but we are venturing into the Adriatic.

TMR: How does Celestyal work with travel agents?
GD: Close to 80% of our bookings are through travel agents. We opened a U.S. office in 2017 and have seen the percentage of Americans on our cruises go from under 30% to 45% in two years. Celestyal has four business development managers in the U.S.: Chicago/Central U.S., West Coast, and two on the East Coast. They service the business for the trade. 

Our base commission starts at 12%. Even if your agency is not preferred, you can make good money selling the product. Celestyal offers 60% off travel agent fam rates and various organized fam trips throughout the year. We plan to launch an agent training program in the next three to six months. Our agent portal allows agents to enter and manage their bookings at www.celestyalcruises.com. We also have a call center in America at 877-337-4665.

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