Indeed, had the owners of Genting Hong Kong been prepared to enter more seriously into discussions, the deal could have been done long before the collapse of Crystal earlier this year, avoiding much distress and heartache amongst crew, employees, partners and guests around the world.
Following Royal Caribbean's purchase of Silversea, the Lefebvre family's Heritage Group, of which Manfredi Lefebvre is Chairman, entered a strategic partnership with Geoffrey Kent, founder of Abercrombie and Kent, to jointly acquire A&K Travel Group.
In turn, Lefebvre's long held ambition has finally come to pass, as A&K Travel Group has acquired Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. They have also acquired, in a separate transaction, the Crystal Cruises brand.
It is early days to receive any detail about Crystal Cruises 2.0, but information about the future is already trickling through. The two ships are currently in the Fincantieri shipyard in Trieste and the owners have inspected them thoroughly and begun to work on plans. These two ships, although elderly, were built to a very high specification and have been looked after exceptionally well. Luxury buyers will of course, be aware that the entry level accommodation has historically been rather small compared to the competition and as a result there will be some work to make adjustments, as indeed happened in the previous incarnation, when three staterooms were reduced to two and in some cases two to one. On the other hand, these spacious ships have never seemed crowded, even when full, so a careful adjustment will be needed to ensure the capacity is not reduced to such an extent that the guests rattle around in the public rooms, nor that the fares need to be raised to an uncompetitive level.
They plan that the ships will resume service in summer 2023, after an extensive refurbishment and itineraries will be, as always worldwide - but starting no doubt in the Mediterranean. It will be fascinating to watch the incorporation of the A&K expertise in looking after shoreside operations and land programmes into the Crystal itineraries, the first time such a seamless operation has been trialled (of course, I am only guessing here - maybe there is no intention to create such proximity between the Heritage Group companies).
The key to the group's success, it appears to us, will be the ability to put the core Crystal shipboard team, both officers and crew, back together sufficiently well that their world recognised standards of service are resumed. Crystal's former President, the quietly spoken Jack Anderson, has been recruited to head up the new company in Miami and he is highly thought of by those who worked for him and also by the travel trade; with an extensive background within the cruise industry and more specifically as a Carnival Corporation executive. We know that behind the scenes the new team are working flat out and have extensive and creative plans for the future of Crystal, so watch this space over the next few months and we will keep you posted about when you can try out the new improved (if that is possible..) Crystal Cruises. The suggestion is that the first cruises will be on sale towards the end of the year.
One of their main challenges will be the historic loss of goodwill to the company following two years of broken promises and unpaid bills. Here in the UK, for example, our company was exposed to the tune of over £3 million, as we refunded customer monies for future cruises, which had already been paid over to Crystal Cruises.
Industry watchers will not have missed that the Tan Sri KT Lim, multi-billionaire and former chairman, CEO and executive director of Crystal's former owner Genting Hong Kong, with Colin Au, deputy CEO, group president and executive director, have started a new cruise line in Singapore, Resorts World Cruises, having walked away after calling in the liquidators. Resorts World Cruises have just picked up the assets of Star Cruises, which was formerly owned by Genting Hong Kong; other Genting companies are unscathed.
Crystal's luxury expedition ship, Crystal Endeavor, which was launched in July last year, has been purchased by Silversea and will enter service almost immediately, this winter, sailing as Silver Endeavour (note the new spelling!) on Silversea Explorer's scheduled itineraries. As part of the announcement, Silversea's owner the Royal Caribbean group pledged to honour non-refunded payments for Crystal Endeavor cruises as credits, on any Royal Caribbean group product, although of course, all UK guests have now been refunded.
Meanwhile, the fate of the newly built river cruise fleet is still clouded in mystery, although the word is that the veteran Crystal Mozart already has a new owner.