by Jonathan Vatner | October 01, 2006

Silversea Cruises

Sean J. MahoneySilversea Cruises is a luxury small-ship cruise line with just four ships, with talk of a fifth ship in the offing. Sean J. Mahoney (right), vice president of worldwide charter and incentive sales for the Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based company, discusses his take on luxury.

M&C: How is the luxury market treating you?

Mahoney: We’ve seen on the corporate and incentive side double-digit growth, year after year for the last number of years. That is a symptom of a couple of things. Silversea took a much more proactive approach to corporate and incentive business at the start of 2002. It’s one thing to say you’re in the corporate and incentive business, and another to design your company to sell and market your product to the business.

M&C: What industries are you seeing hold events on Silversea Cruises?

Mahoney: It’s those industries that rely on dealer/distributor networks: Insurance, financial services, automotive, pharmaceutical and high-tech rely on a network of dealers and distributors who aren’t employees. They are conducting the marquee types of programs at luxury cruise ships or destinations.

M&C: How would you describe your core customers?

Mahoney: These are affluent people, 45 to 55 years of age. They’re working executives or semiretired. When they’re not doing meetings, they will typically vacation in a five-star hotel or on a luxury cruise ship. They’re active, with a great sense of adventure and exploration, and are looking for new or unique experiences, mostly due to the fact that they are well traveled.

M&C: What do they expect from a luxury provider?

Mahoney: With us, it is service that exceeds their expectations. These are extremely savvy customers. They’ve done their research, and they come to us with high expectations. And they still appreciate those special touches that might not have appeared in the brochure. That helps set this experience apart.

M&C: Has luxury changed in the past five or 10 years?

Mahoney: To be the best, you have to constantly reevaluate your product and services and innovate constantly to stay a step ahead of the game. It’s choosing the right partners on board, providing the right entertainment choices, the right food choices. There’s a major emphasis on creating a product and services on board that people can identify with. We’re finding that many of our guests don’t want to sit down to a production show. They’d much rather be entertained by a live band or a celebrity entertainer. Or we’ll have parties on deck.

M&C: How about the luxury meeting or incentive? Have those changed?

Mahoney: One of the big concerns for many in the industry is the growing commoditization for both the meeting and incentive purchasing process, and more so in the meeting purchasing or procurement process. Today, companies increasingly are making decisions in many cases based solely on price and not taking into consideration those aspects that can really make the difference between a meaningful event that accomplishes many things and just another meeting.

MandarinOriental spas

Ingo SchwederThe Hong Kong-based Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group has staked a compelling claim as the premier spa provider of all the luxury hotel chains. Much of this success can be attributed to Ingo Schweder (right), group director of spas, a man who not only is guiding Mandarin Oriental’s spa endeavors, but in a sense, the entire spa industry as well. The newest spa in the portfolio is at the 502-room Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, which reopened in September after a $140 million renovation.

M&C: What defines the luxury spa experience?

Schweder: What you see, what you smell and what you hear are key components of enjoying that journey. It’s not only the physical space. It starts with a foot ritual, with hot and cold towels, and continues with the tea, and locker rooms with hot and cold experiences. It brings your heart rate down, detoxifies your skin, and prepares you for the eventual treatment. That two- or three-hour journey is what luxury is all about.

M&C: What makes Mandarin Oriental spas so luxurious?

Schweder: First, we’re doing a very good job in creating and designing the physical spaces. The second thing is training. Before any spa opens, we train our employees for three months. And, third, we are offering true Asian healing modalities. Our company was born in Hong Kong. Chinese medicine, shiatsu, Thai massage -- they were born here, in our home.

M&C: What draws customers to your spa facilities?

Schweder: That’s a question I asked last year for the first time. I asked 19,000 people, why are you coming to a Mandarin Oriental spa? Is it the products? The ambience? The design? They are not coming because they’re price-sensitive, and not because of the spa products. They’re coming for the design and ambience, for purification, for the qualified staff and for the guest journey.

M&C: How have luxury spas changed?

Schweder: Many years ago it was the gym, pool and squash court that had the spa rooms. Our new spas are 20,000 to 40,000 square feet, and they take over prime space. In the spa in Hong Kong, it’s the top three floors. And they are offering today a variety of holistic exercises: tai chi, yoga, qigong, Pilates. There’s much more to do now.

M&C: What’s next for spas?

Schweder: At a restaurant, when you go for fine dining, you might choose French or Japanese. It depends on what you feel like, what you want. That’s going to be one of the biggest elements of spa experiences, the personalized experience according to the guest’s wishes.