The Wind Spirit (photo: Rui Minas Agostinho)By summer 2015, Windstar Cruises will have gone from three ships and 600 beds to six ships and 1,200 beds, with the addition of the three smaller Seabourn ships.

CEO Hans Birkholz said the expansion was based on three key considerations.

“First, the business has been growing and we are in need of additional capacity,” he explained. Then, the Seattle-based company, along with owners Xanterra Parks & Resorts, wanted to develop the brand by adding destinations – leading to more tonnage.

“And, this choice of vessels was really built on intimate yacht cruising,” Birkholz said. “The ships themselves fit very well into what the brand stands for.”

Thus, Windstar will welcome the 202-passenger, 1988-built Seabourn Pride in April 2014, followed by the Seabourn Spirit and Legend a year later.

After buying Windstar out of bankruptcy, Xanterra has been an active owner, investing in the refurbishment of all three sail-assisted ships, and acquiring the three Seabourn ships.

“We have been looking for new capacity for some time,” said Birkholz, who would not comment on the investment amount.

In Seattle, the company is ramping up for the new ships hiring additional staff to accommodate all the marketing, deployment planning and more that takes place prior to delivery.

“From a business-model perspective, we are not making any changes, we are marketing Windstar the way we have always marketed Windstar,” Birkholz continued, pointing to North America as his key source market.

Xanterra is the latest owner in the Windstar book, having surprised the industry by buying the company out of bankruptcy court for $39 million, according to filings.

The biggest economy of scale coming with 600 more beds will be branding benefits, according to Birkholz.

With sailing ships, it came as a surprise that Windstar would go out and buy smaller luxury vessels.
The acquired ships will be refitted to Windstar standards, a cosmetic “Windstarization.”

Brand positioning can be defined as “luxury as you want it,” which is the freedom to choose, explained Birkholz, who pointed to Windstar’s beverage packages, shore excursions, hotel options, laundry packages and more.

 “You can pick and choose how you want to enjoy your luxury experience,” he said.  

Going forward, Windstar is quickly becoming a much bigger player in a small luxury market – and with what Xanterra has done so far, more growth could be on the table. 

>> Also in this section: Lindblad Buys Another Ship, Intercruises at 10 and How to Succeed as a Start-Up

Excerpt from Cruise Industry News Quarterly Magazine: Summer 2013