Glacier Bay Cruise Line(GBC), one of the pioneers of small ship adventure travel cruising, has been acquired by 35-year travel industry veteran Bob Brennan, for $10 million.
Brennan, who has served as senior vice president of marketing for Holland America Line Westours and president of Princess Tours, acquired the assets from Goldbelt, INC., an Alaskan corporation, that included the GBC name, customer list, captains and all crew, along with three adventure-class overnight small cruise ships: the 87-passenger Wilderness Discoverer, the 69-passenger Wilderness Adventurer and the 31-passenger Wilderness Explorer. According to Brennan, by end of February, acquisition of a fourth ship from Goldbelt -the 49-passenger Executive Explorer - should be official as well. "That one will be very different from the others," Brennan disclosed. "It's a high speed catamaran, and will prove to be a big advantage for us. We'll be able to visit nine ports in seven days - something not many smaller cruise lines are able to do." With all of the vessels nearly 20 years old, Brennan insisted that the condition of the ships "is not an issue," underscoring that his company has a "very strict maintenance program" The Executive Explorer is the only ship that will receive refurbishments, including new engine gears, generators and various work on her interior.
The Seattle-based GBC will operate from May to September, offering a total of 51 cruises - excluding the Executive Explorer - for an annual passenger capacity of more than 3,000. Its primary destination will continue to be Alaska, where points of interest will include the Inside Passage, Elfin Cove, Warm Springs Bay and Frederick Sound. Currently, six-to nine-night cruises are being offered with prices starting at around $1,400 per person. Adventure cruise lines are typically known for being more expensive than the larger lines, and Brennan said that the public understands and accepts this wholeheartedly. "There is definitely a higher per diem for this type of activity, and passengers know that," he noted. "They are prepared to pay more. They know this exclusive, private experience cannot be offered anywhere else. You really can charge whatever the market will bear without gouging the public. When you are dealing in great volume, you have the ability to charge a lot less." Although Brennan admits that the market for niche cruising is younger than ever now, he hopes to attract as wide a variety of passengers as possible. "You really don't have to be a certain age," he said. "With adventure cruising it can vary considerably - from 35 to 80."
What originally captured Brennan's eye about GBC was the kayak and cruise combination the line offers.
Three of the four vessels carry a total of 77 kayaks, enabling guests to get even closer to the sights and sounds of Alaska.
"We have the corner on that market," he insisted. "When the ships release the kayaks, you can almost go out and touch a glacier." The company is also the only line that presents adventure in the form of three different levels. "Low" level would emphasize more of the scenic aspect of the cruise; while "high" is for those that crave ample activities - kayaking, hiking, and the like; and finally, "medium" level cruising is a combination of the two. Added Brennan: "This type of approach helps make adventure cruising appealing to anyone of any age with any ability."
Brennan revealed that he plans on running GBC differently than its predecessor, assuring that the focal point will be strictly on cruising. "Goldbelt had other interests," he recalled. "In addition to cruising, they were concentrating on other Alaskan land-based products - such as running the Glacier Bay Lodge. For us, there will be no other attractions; it will be a concentrated effort." Brennan also pointed out that in order to get GBC where he wants it to be, marketing techniques must improve dramatically. "We need more exposure," he explained. "Goldbelt's marketing tactics were very weak. That's one of the major things we have to improve on. Everything else - the ships, the itineraries - are all securely in place."
Although Brennan has decades of experience under his belt, involved in many gemes of travel, he has never owned a cruise line. But he insists that is not an issue. "I am very confident," he said. "My experience speaks for itself. I was placing nearly 4,000 passengers a week when I did marketing for the major lines. Our annual capacity is less than 10 percent of that." When asked why Brennan made the change, he claimed the opportunity of the product itself was just too attractive to pass up. "Honestly, it wasn't about the money," he underlined. "Nothing comes cheap, and it really wasn't a phenomenal buy. I just saw something I believed in very strongly and went for it."
What is Brennan's formula for keeping GBC around for the long haul? "The line started in 1967," he pointed out. "It's is a very old company with a strong reputation. We wouldn't have spent this money if we didn't strongly believe in the product." Brennan noted that keys for running a cruise line successfully is to first, have a quality product, and second, you must hire good people. "Our onboard service is excellent," he explained, "the enthusiasm is good. We are truly ready to take this line to the next level." As far as challenges and issues Brennan foresees, he mentioned that the unpredictable nature of the economy in always a concern.
"You always have to be weary of changes," he said. "Things have been good for a while; the downward cycle has bottomed out, and I am very optimistic."
Brennan sees the future of GBC as a platform for constant revision and development, constantly looking at new ports and itineraries to appeal to its repeat cruisers that want to see something different. "We may even be considering extending our season as well," he revealed. "We lay the ships up in Seattle in the winter, but perhaps sometime in the future we'll do something with them during that time." Brennan disclosed that while he has been thinking about Baja, Costa Rica and the Sea of Cortez as prospects for winter months, there are doubts. "In a sense you are limited with these vessels," he said. ''They are not ocean-going, and you can ruin them by taking them too far off land." Could there be other acquisitions in the future for Bren nan? "Right now, no," he said. "We have our work cut out for us, and we can't take our eye off the ball. However, if something else happens to be out there, we will consider it."