It’s a name linked to the most luxurious of cruises for over a quarter of a century, with more awards than almost any other ship or line. So the end of Crystal has been created with hand ringing and despair by those who love the finer things of life on the ocean waves.
But this week, a glimmer of hope. The former owner of Silversea Cruises, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio has made two fully funded offers to acquire Crystal Cruises.
Heritage Group, which is managed by Mr Lefebvre told Seatrade Cruise News: “One offer was made in first quarter 2021 and one after the announcement of the liquidation.”
The statement added: “We are a very credible buyer with roots in the cruise industry that stretch back in the late ’80s. We are firmly convinced that with our knowledge and know-how of the ultra-luxury segment we could transform Crystal into a success story. The combination with Abercrombie & Kent could generate synergies that would facilitate the recovery and partially compensate for the deterioration of the brand exacerbated in the last few weeks.”
Chief investment officer of Heritage and former managing direct of Silversea Expeditions, Cristina Levis said, “My love and passion for the Crystal brand and product goes back to the time when I was at the helm of Silversea Expeditions; I was telling my team to look to Crystal as an example of great brand like Silversea, to try and emulate and compete against.
“Crystal’s ships have a soul which I sincerely hope won’t be left to die. Restoring trade’s and passengers’ trust won’t be easy but if we are given the chance we will go the extra mile not to disappoint them.”
The cruise line last week shuttered its doors with no warning to consumers or travel agents. Crystal was abandoned by its parent company, Genting Hong Kong and leaves a trail of debt owed to cruisers who’d put down payments and deposits for sailings into 2024; agents owed commissions; employees; crew still on ships and to unpaid vendors.
Some estimates put the sum at $100m.
The unfolding saga started when Genting Hong Kong’s shipyard, Meyer Werft was declared insolvent. But head office assured Crystal employees that the brand was not in trouble. Passengers were in fact, still on ships.
But by the end of February, after the Crystal Endeavour disembarked its final passengers in Ushuaia, Argentina, it was reported that the cash had run out.
“Genting HK effectively washed their hands of Crystal when they filed liquidation in Bermuda,” Jack Anderson, who served as president of Crystal Cruises until the company dissolved its operations on February 11 told Bloomberg.
“At that point our relationship with Genting was effectively severed, and we were cut loose to fend for ourselves.”
Crystal is currently responsible for more than $100 million in customer deposits and payments, all held in reserve accounts under the control of various credit card companies.
Mr Anderson said that most future itineraries were paid by credit card which will make for easier refunds. But customers who paid in cash may not be as lucky.
But those who paid fully for sailings that were cancelled in 2020 or 2021 and rolled over into new bookings are completely out of luck. Any credits are now worthless.
Travel agents are owed 10%-16% commissions on each itinerary they sold. But the time they have spent untangling credit cards, is an additional cost they will never be able to recoup.
Currently, the Crystal crew are stranded on its ships and if the company aims to sell the vessels, having the crew onboard to maintain them will help.
Before the shutdown, Cruise Industry News was predicting that the buyout price for Crystal Cruise brand of US$1 billion to $2 billion. But now, the ships are not likely to fetch more than US$400 million for the creditors. The fleet, in fact, was not owned by the cruise line but is a secured asset of preferred creditors.
Its expedition ship, the Crystal Endeavour is the most valuable at US$200 million. But the other vessels will fetch much less – around US$50 million for Symphony, US$100 million for Serenity and US$18 million each for the new river ships. Sadly, because of the age Symphony, she may end up in the scrapyard.
The cruise line was born out of the indulgent 1980s – people were drinking bottles of complimentary champagne and feasting a seafood menu designed by Nobu Matsuhisa’s onboard restaurants. There were white-gloved butlers, serviced penthouses and suites, silver trays of caviar.
Hopefully if Mr Lefebvre is successful with his purchase, we’ll see a new glorious age of Crystal decadence.