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, it’s good to have you on again. How have you been?
Gordon Dirker (GD): Well thank you and thank you for asking. It is a pleasure to be back with our friends at TRO. I hope you are well also.
TRO: Last we spoke (previous interview here), you mentioned that the Eastern Mediterranean was seeing record growth. Is this still on the rise, specifically cruises?
GD: Speaking on behalf of Celestyal Cruise and the North American market in particular, I can say that overall trends continue to be strong. While in 2019 we (NA) had a share of 40% of our global distribution. We are expecting this to grow to 45% in 2020. Current booking trends show that these objectives are well within reach as growth driven by demand and interest continues to be in the double digits. Even 2021 is starting to trend, which is a good sign and a vote of confidence by the traveling public. The Eastern Med is back in fashion and has been for the past few years.
TRO: One of the midsized ships in your fleet is the Celestyal Olympia. This one seems to be a bit bigger and geared toward family and fun while cruising the blue waters of the Mediterranean. Can you tell us about it?
GD: I would argue that both of our vessels are perfect for all sorts of travelers, including families. The reason families choose our vessels is probably more driven by the itinerary. I.e. the Olympia is primarily operating our 3- and 4-night programs, which customers enjoy as these are port intensive island-hopping cruises. 2 ports of call on average each day make these itineraries great for those who like to learn/see a lot in a short period. Families with slightly older kids (7- early teenagers) enjoy this pace as you are constantly exploring and discovering new things. The 7-night sailings, except for our brand-new Adriatic cruise, are mostly on the Crystal. Still port intensive but the USP for these cruises is the slower pace/more time in port such as close to 24 hours in places like Istanbul. Mykonos and even longer in Santorini. Also great for everyone but certainly attractive to families who prefer a more relaxing pace when exploring this part of the world.
TRO: The other ship, the Celestyal Crystal, is a bit smaller and more intimate. It also has more balcony suites, a favorite among a lot of travelers. Can you tell us about this one as well?
GD: My previous answer covers some of this to some extent. She is a wonderful vessel for our slower paced 7 – night sailings. We are sailing with between 800/900 passengers on Crystal (v 1200 on Olympia) and, because of her size, we can visit islands such as Milos. This allows travelers to discover the Greek islands that few other cruise lines go or visit at all. She is now in action year-round, shifting her attention in the fall and spring to places like Volos, the gateway to Meteora, Istanbul and Canakkale – where we see the famous Trojan horse. She also operates the 3 Continents Cruise during the fourth and first quarter of the year. A perfect time to visit the Pyramids in Egypt, Cyprus with its mild climate, Israel, Turkey and, of course, Greece. Besides 53 state rooms with balconies, she also has good meeting facilities which is perfect for the religious, cultural and historical affinity groups we attract on these sailings.
TRO: Have you been to any memorable destinations since the last time we talked, in October of 2018?
GD: Well… working for a company with offices in the USA AND Greece requires me to go back and forth a few times a year, which is a wonderful benefit. I did do one of the 7-night Idyllic Cruises with my youngest son and wife last year, which was fantastic as he was able to retrace many of his Percy Jackson books. My parents will be doing the Eclectic this fall and as for my 2019 family vacation I explored Japan this year which, like Greece and the Eastern Med, is another paradise for foodies and seafood lovers.
TRO: Being a destination specialist is vital for selling a true experience in the travel industry. How does Celestyal go about fleshing out such an experience when creating itineraries?
GD: We have a dedicated and highly professional team consisting of some of our most experienced Captains who, based on input from the commercial team, research and produce the product our customers are looking for. Supported by technology and general knowledge, it is these experts who make the product happen. They will visit the ports, cities, and sights along with our product team to ensure that the end result is something that works – and, more importantly, marketable/exciting to our many travelers.
TRO: Travel is, obviously, an important part of opening up the mind to the differences and similarities between cultures all over the world – from the unique sights to the interactions with locals. What do you think could get more Americans to get out there and see the world?
GD: In general, when looking at us humans, we are all for the most part naturally curious and social “beasts”. We keep “evolving” and many of us are forever keen to see what is beyond the horizon. Bringing down barriers by mingling and exploring with other cultures, both here and abroad, allows us to learn and grow. Travel in particular can instantly address misconceptions and misunderstandings, and so allows travelers to share these (positive) experiences and encounters instantly. As long as we produce, promote, and operate travel products that play into these needs and desires, I have no doubt that more and more will come to see and learn firsthand that we all have very similar ideas and believes regarding what life is all about.
TRO: We’re approaching the holiday season, which means Black Friday and Cyber Monday are coming up. Should agents expect big things from these sales?
GD: Indeed, they should. Last year we had some very attractive BOGO offers, which many jumped on. Watch this space for more, but we expect similar punchy offers again this year so please contact your BDM to get involved promoting this.
TRO: Does Celestyal have any other big new or announcements coming up?
GD: We continue to grow so the answer is ‘yes,’ for sure. While I can’t reveal too much, I can share that we are working on new and exciting itineraries. We just introduced the 7- Night Adriatic sailings and a themed Footsteps of Paul sailing (the latter is almost sold out already). Great news, as it does not sail until 2021! We are, and remain, fully committed to sailing in our core region (the Eastern Med), which we do year-round now. However, do expect to see our ships operating other destination-driven Cruises elsewhere as well.
TRO: Gordon, thank you for your time. We wish you the best in the days to come.
GD: A real pleasure as always and thank you for the opportunity