With Crystal Cruises suspending operations through April with owner Genting Hong Kong warning of cash troubles, there is no shortage of speculation of what will happen to one of the key luxury brands in the industry.
According to sources familiar with the situation, Crystal is drawing interest for its brand name, past passenger list of wealthy American clients, its new 200-guest expedition ship and fleet of river ships. Less interesting, according to sources, are the company’s larger ocean-going ships.
Catching up with industry sources, Cruise Industry News put together a list of possible suitors and scenarios.
- Genting: Could Genting reorganize using bankruptcy protection and continue to operate Crystal? The company could emerge stronger with reduced debt loads, new money and a fresh outlook if a reorganization takes place.
- Lindblad: Lindblad Expeditions and Genting have already been at the negotiating table as Lindblad bought the Crystal Esprit in 2021. Lindblad has been active in the acquisition space, also having bought up complementary companies in recent years. While Crystal’s big ocean-going luxury ships don’t fit the Lindblad product, the river ships, new Endeavor and passenger list could be ideal.
- MSC: MV Werften and a 75 percent-finished 5,000-gest Global Dream could present an interesting opportunity for fast-growing MSC Cruises. The family-owned company is known to make quick decisions and wants to dominate the cruise industry. Could a shipyard and newbuild designed-for-China give them a platform to accelerate future growth even more? It could prove tempting. The Endeavor would also allow the company to enter the expedition market overnight.
- Carnival/Royal/Norwegian: Could one of the three major players acquire Crystal into their portfolio of brands? It would prevent potential new competition. However, chances are the answer is no, as all three would see significant pushback from the investment community, which is focused on short term financial performance.
- Azamara/Sycamore: After buying Azamara Cruises from Royal Caribbean Group in early 2021, Sycamore Partners, a private equity company, added a fourth ship with acquisition of the Pacific Princess. It’s no secret in industry circle they have been looking for more. A new parent company could operate both brands, with a lean shoreside organization, and vessel management from V. Ships Leisure, which is already running the Azamara fleet. It would allow Sycamore to add to its ocean-going capacity while entering the expedition and river markets.
- Ponant: Another small cruise line that has been quickly growing is Ponant. With well-financed French owners the boutique luxury operator has acquired both Travel Dynamics and Paul Gauguin, and introduced a fleet of new ships for the Ponant brand.
- National Investment Fund: It’s not a matter of if, but when, as it relates to a major public investment fund from a Middle Eastern country buying majority control of a cruise line.
- Hotel Chain: The Ritz-Carlton Yacht Collection and Margaritaville enter the cruise industry in 2022. For hotel chains with a fear of missing out, this may be a key opportunity to get into the business.
- New Money: The pandemic has brought new private equity money, hedge funds and new investors into the cruise industry.According to sources, there are still multiple deep-pocketed investors waiting for the right time to buy in.
- River Operator: The Crystal river ships are said to be drawing interest from a number of existing European river operators.