Born and educated in the Netherlands, Gordon Dirker has enjoyed an extensive career in the travel industry. Prior to being appointed VP of Business Development, Americas for Celestyal Cruises in January 2018, Gordon spent nearly 18 years working for the Travel Corporation. This was followed by nearly 4 years with the Norway based expedition cruise and ferry line, Hurtigruten. He started as a BDM for Contiki Holidays based in Baltimore, MD. After 1 year, Gordon was promoted and moved to London to lead their sales and marketing efforts in the UK and Europe. This was followed by a move back to LA where he spent 6 years at Brendan Vacations in a similar senior role. He left the Travel Corporation to become the regional VP for the USA and Canada with Hurtigruten. Gordon is married and resides in Seattle. In his free time, he likes to ski, hike and explore the Eastern Mediterranean.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Hi, Gordon. How are you, ready for the upcoming winter?
Gordon Dirker (GD): I am well and thank you for asking. The Winter season is always an exciting time as promotions gear up, the holidays are upon us and people start to dream about where to travel next. We will obviously be very busy highlighting why we think these plans should include a cruise to Greece and the Eastern Med with Celestyal. I personally love this time of the year, as the holidays in particular are a great reason for families to spend quality time together.
TRO: You’ve been in the travel industry for more than a few decades now. You must enjoy the work?
GD: The short answer is yes, I do very much. We are in the people business, selling dreams and I think that most will agree that this ensures that no day is ever the same. This makes our industry very attractive indeed. I have been privileged to work and deal with people and cultures from all over the world and continue to do so today. You never stop learning and while some people romanticize our industry, I continue to be excited when I get on a plane to go somewhere. Whether it is for business or pleasure, upon arrival there will be new sights to be seen, foods to be tasted, scents to be smelled and people to be met. That is a lot of fun and even more so if you can inspire others to do the same.
TRO: What first drew you to the travel industry?
GD: My first foreign trip was when I was probably 2 or 3 years old. Living in the Netherlands at the time, a foreign trip was always a relatively short drive to a neighboring country, but my parents took us to another country at least twice a year. Short breaks to Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany spending 3 to 4 weeks in France, Slovenia, Hungary, Spain, Italy, Greece during the summer etc. allowed me to know Europe very well at an early age. This turned into a passion for travel and discovery. When I was a bit older and had to start thinking about my career all these experiences made me realize that a traditional local desk job was probably not for me. For a short period I contemplated archeology, signing up with the Royal Dutch Navy, or thought I would become a chef. All jobs that have close links to travel. I ended up in our industry instead because my Aunt and Uncle owned a Tour Company. This got me into studying Tourism while I gained experience during my breaks “working” for them. The rest is history as they say.
TRO: What does being in business development with a travel company entail? And, specifically, with Celestyal Cruises?
GD: The concept is simple, in Celestyal’s case we own 2 midsize cruise ships. These sail in some of the most exciting places in the Eastern Mediterranean. It is our job to fill these ships with people who are keen to explore and learn about Greece, the Greek Islands, Egypt, Cyprus, Turkey and Israel. This proposition is easy to understand and sell but it is our job to explain this to our reseller partners so that they become an extension of our sales & marketing team turning leads into travelers, thus filling our ships. It is all about creating long term multi beneficial partnerships in the end.
TRO: Celestyal Cruises has more awards than can be listed here (full list here). What do you think are Celestyal’s strengths in the cruise industry?
GD: We are a true destination specialist and deliver a unique experience. This sounds like a cliché but, considering we are the foremost homeporting Cruise line in Athens, we truly explore and sail this region like nobody else. Our customers enjoy warm Greek or Mediterranean hospitality while on the ship and will visit places few other Cruise lines go or can go. Places like Milos, Cyprus, Volos are fantastic relatively undiscovered destinations; and, we stay overnight in some of the more famous ports such as Mykonos, Istanbul and Santorini. We are in the region year-round and operate 4, 5 and 8-day all-inclusive itineraries, tips, drinks, and 2 (on the shorter voyages) or 3 shore excursions are all included in the prize. It is the combination of all of the above that has allowed us to earn these awards as our travelers really appreciate and enjoy what we do.
TRO: You’re a well-traveled man, even living overseas for a few positions within travel companies. Where are your favorite spots to visit around the globe?
GD: I obviously love the Greek islands and Greece. While some may think I have to say this being part of the Celestyal team, the appeal of this amazing country considering the culture, the history, the food, the scenery and its people are some of the main reasons I joined the team. In general, I love countries with dramatic scenery, vibrant diverse cities, cultures and I love to visit places that allow you to learn more about yourself and how you fit into this world. Cities with amazing history like Athens, Cairo and Rome are high on my list but you also can’t beat Paris, London, New York and Amsterdam off course. Mount Rainier is just around the corner from where I live and that is not to shabby either, especially when you consider how flat Holland is. Seattle is certainly one of my favorites when it comes to places I lived.
TRO: What should travel agents know about showing their clients an authentic and personalized experience with Celestyal Cruises?
GD: It is important that agents understand that we are a destination specialist. The destination is the hero. Our midsize ships are intimate as well as comfortable, and we provide a fantastic all-inclusive experience, but we tend to attract travelers as opposed to hardcore cruisers. The ship will not necessarily be the destination in our case. For the most part, our customers are just like those travelers who enjoy a river cruise, a self-drive vacation or an escorted tour. People choose us for our itineraries and the value proposition. Considering we are including as much as we do, we are a relatively easy sell for our agents. We highly encourage our agents to join our agent Facebook group this is a great place to stay up to date on selling tips, product news etc. (Celestyal Cruises Agent Talk- Americas).
TRO: Does Celestyal Cruises have any big plans for the near future, or perhaps some news about upcoming offerings?
GD: We have recently introduced 2 additional 8-day itineraries on top of the 8-day Greek Island Cruise we launched in 2018. The latter turned out to be a great success as we were almost at capacity throughout the season. The exciting news is that we are going back to Egypt and combine this with Greece, Israel, Cyprus and Turkey. Visiting 3 continents on a single voyage is an appealing concept and we are pleased to share that early bookings are looking very healthy indeed. The Eclectic combines Greece and Turkey on a voyage that allows you to explore Troy, Meteora, Istanbul, Crete – as well as Santorini and Mykonos. Our Early Booking Incentives continue to run until just before Christmas, offering significant savings to those who plan ahead. The Eastern Mediterranean has seen record growth the past few years, with the trend continuing for 2019, so securing a stateroom early is highly recommended regardless. Be ready for our black Friday and Cyber Monday offers as well. While limited, these are bound to very attractive.
TRO: Thanks for your time, Gordon. Have a great day.
GD: The pleasure was all mine, thank you for the opportunity and we hope to see you in Greece sometime soon.
For more information on Celestyal Cruises and their itineraries, please visit www.celestyalcruises.com. Or, their Facebook group for travel agents, https://www.facebook.com/groups/Celestyal.Cruises.Agent.Talk.Americas/.