Malvern Marine's takeover of majority ownership in Renaissance Cruises has led to rapid-fire changes at the beleaguered line.
In an interview with Cruise Industry News, Malvern head Peter Gram explained, "The former two co-chief executives, Frank De Rio and Richard Kirby, have both invoked their right to leave the company, which is understandable after we brought in Manfred Ursprunger." After former Celebrity Cruises vice president Ursprunger was installed as president and CEO, fellow Celebrity exec Jim Henwood came aboard as vice president of sales, replacing Charles Dunwood - and personnel changes are expected to continue as Ursprunger's new team is put in place.
Perhaps the most daunting task confronted by the new management and ownership is raising the company's perennially low per-diems - partially a consequence of the former management's failed direct sales policy and the resultant "boycott" by travel agents.
"We are an upscale premium product but we are selling as a contemporary product," said Gram, noting that the previous ownership "was extremely concerned about not filling the ship" - thus the heavy discounting.
Further repairng the company's marred relationship with the travel community "is obviously one of the key issues Mr. Ursprunger will be addressing," said Gram. "We are 100 percent behind the travel agents and we will definitely not be going back to direct bookings." While Renaissance ceased its anti-travel-agent policies last year, it is believed that the arrival of new ownership and new management will endow the company with a new level of credibility among travel agents.
"We will change some deployments, but it will not be dramatic," Gram said. "There could be some new areas we will go to, but we will still have a very heavy emphasis on Europe during the summer.
"It's more a question of what we will do with the ships in the winter. And the two ships in Tahiti will remain."
On rumors that the company will seek to sell its two smaller 114-passenger vessels, Gram explained, "We have to review what to do with them. Because of their size they are not as profitable as the larger ships, and it is not easy to focus the company on the smaller ships when so much money has been invested in the new ships." Potential options include forming an "alliance" with an outside party to help sell berths on the smaller vessels, or considering outright purchase offers.
Would the new ownership ever consider selling one or more of the new R-series ships? "That is not a preferred option," Gram asserted. "One of the strengths of the company is the new, uniform fleet."
Finally, when questioned about published reports that Renaissance lost $95 million last year on turnover of $580 million, Gram would only say, "Obviously, the company has had big losses, and we 're working to change that."
Renaissance has announced an agreement with Monte Carlo-based Martinoli Sam to assume management of all marine and technical operations of the fleet. "We believe the decision will give us substantial cost savings," said Gram, who asserted, "We are reviewing all of our options, all of our arrangements, everything from catering to the head count in the head office. We will review everything to cut costs in a way that is not detrimental to the product."