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AMERICAN QUEEN revisited - a report from New Orleans, April 2007

 
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Old 04-22-2007, 01:56 PM
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Default AMERICAN QUEEN revisited - a report from New Orleans, April 2007

On April 6th we had the chance to tour the AMERICAN QUEEN and talk to David Simmons as well as Keith Tinnin, who showed us around on the boat while she was in port at New Orleans.

The most important lesson I've learned there is that despite all concerns here on the message board there are people responsible for the boats at Majestic America Line who exactly know the difference between a "boat" and a "ship", who of course know that there are no compasses in use on a steamboat, who exactly know what unique selling position in the market it is to have steamboats etc. They try their best to do the right things for the boats, hence building up a profitable, stable business.

They easily could bild new boats, like so many other cruise ship companies are doing very successfully. Why buy old boats from a struggling business? Why take this risk, when you don’t have an idea how it will work? I strongly believe that they do everything to make the former DQSC boats a well performing business that makes money - the only basis for keeping the boats on business in the long term.

I’ve discussed some of the issues that had been raised on the message board with David Simmons and his statement to all these issues is very clear: Majestic America Line does want all three boats to be successful. Very obviously there are good reasons for doing what they do

Now, why are they doing what they do? Why are they not listening to past passengers and steamboat related people raising their concerns? (Please be aware, the following statements are not David Simmon's but partly my personal opinion and partly result of the assumptions I made after our AQ visit.)

Making business in difficult markets is a tough thing. The cruise industry is a tough business with extremely strong competition. And let's face it: The "Queens" are part of the cruise industry, you can't separate them from the crowd just because they're steam driven. Yes, that's something special, but basically they are swimming hotel resorts, competing with companies ranging from Carnival and Disney up to Holland America and Cunard.

We've discussed the strategy of Majestic America Line here many times before and I don't want to start this discussion again. Fact is that Majestic America Line has made a decision about its strategy to compete successfully in this market with their boats.

For sure they did a lot of market research. I suppose they've evaluated quality and quantity of target groups, they've analysed crowded places in this market as well as niches, compared high price segments with mid-range and low-price offers, they've compared the quality of the different cruise lines and what passengers their competitors get, and much more alike. Then, they made a decision about their ideal audience and made up a plan on how to reach these people.

Unfortunately for many of us, their major target group is not the steamboat enthusiast any more. This group simply is too small, and with all respect, it may also be too old to give a perspective for a long term future. When I compare the active members of this message board (assumtion: these are steamboat enthusiasts) with message boards like Cruise Critic with thousands of active members, it's clear that there are much bigger, hence more promising target groups out there to address. And don't forget: DQSC was in financial trouble for a long time, not finding a way to make the business successful with the old way of doing things. You can blame it on what or whom ever you want, but it's a fact that it didn't work that way, so there is a need for a new way.

Just one example, which I think very well shows the implications of the new Majestic America Line strategy: Is it a "boat" or is it a "ship"? Of course it's a boat, we all know it and Majestic America Line knows it, too, of course. But that's not the point. The thing is, if you want to attract new customers, who are used to sailing on huge ships, Holland America ships, Cunard ships, a "boat" for them has something to do with "live boats", "tender boats", "fishing boats" - something you definitely do not want to have a cruise on. And all the sudden a "boat" is not a nice, fancy, positive thing. They’re nothing these passengers would associate with a luxurious river cruise. "Boat" feels uncomfortable, to say the least. The simple solution: Don't call it a "boat". Call it a "ship", problem solved. If this makes such a difference in marketing, isn't it pretty easy for us steamboat enthusiasts to just ignore it? Smile knowingly when you meet another steamboat enthusiast and forget about it! Put your steamboats.org t-shirt or pin on and never ever use these TV sets in your cabin, just to make sure nobody thinks you're one of these "other" passengers.

Let's give Majestic America Line a fair chance. Let's give them the time to proof their strategy. New ideas never work from the beginning, especially if you have to change a lot of things. People are not changing fast, new employees have to learn, they’re not perfectly mirroring the company’s look and feel from the first day on. Let's not assume Majestic America Line is doing it to ruin the boats. Let's not assume they don't know what they do. It's a million dollar business and they really thing about every step they do intensively. And they're of course monitoring everything and will adjust in case something doesn't work as expected - but this again takes some time. Just because a few passengers complain about xyz, you don't change this right for the next cruise. You wait until you know how the majority of the passengers think about it. You can't do it right for everyone, so you have to make a decision whom to please and whom not to please.

Yes, I have to push my personal regrets aside, too. The new strategy makes steamboating very expensive for a family that in addition has to pay for the flights from Europe, so we won't be able any more to have a cruise once per year like we did in the past. But if the new strategy works, this will save our beloved boats. Good enough for me.

Being a journalist for many years, believe me it's really difficult to fool me. And from what I've seen on the AQ, what I've heard from David Simmons, whom I met the first time but who has been in the cruise and steamboat business for a very long time now, and what I've heard from Keith Tinnin, whom I do know for many years now and from whom I'm absolutely convinced that he is an upright and honest person, my conclusion is: The "Queens" are in good hands and the Majestic America Line strategy seams to be well elaborate and promising, though it will take a while until this will be clearly visible in the public.

Give them a chance instead of turning down every little thing they do. Let’s discuss it, but let’s also be fair and keep in mind the full picture, not just the simple assumption that “this or that doesn’t fit into the picture of a historically correct steamboat museum, hence they’re doing a bad job”. Maybe after months of being negative about MAL, we could start thinking about half full glasses instead of half empty glasses?

Franz
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