Tillberg Design of Sweden and V.Ships Leisure
Tillberg Design of Sweden has been engaged to create the 'elegant, Scandi-chic' interiors for the 152-passenger Vega 1 and Vega 2 — their project names only — and V.Ships Leisure is handling deck and engine operations.
Helsinki Shipyard, of course, has decades of expertise building icebreakers, ice-class ships and cruise vessels. The pair for Swan Hellenic will have PC5 ice-strengthened hulls, diesel-electric propulsion Polar Code Category A and extra-large stabilizers.
Long affection for the brand
Zito's ties to Swan Hellenic go back years. He was with V.Ships when it and the Vlasov Group built Minerva for the brand (then part of P&O Cruises) in the mid-1990s and managed it. When Carnival Corp. & plc decided to shutter Swan Hellenic in 2007, former P&O Chairman Lord Jeffrey Sterling took it over, later selling to Roger Allard of All Leisure Group.
V.Ships Leisure was managing operations for Allard's Voyages of Discovery when All Leisure ceased trading in early 2017. Zito brokered the brand's sale to G Adventures, hoping to keep it alive.
'I was very much in love with the brand,' he said.
John Warner, former managing director of G Adventures in the UK, joined Vodohod as managing director a year ago and added the title of GM for Swan Hellenic in the London office, together with Mario Bounas, also with Vodohod and formerly of Royal Caribbean, as VP marketing. Afredo Spadon, previously with Silversea and MSC Cruises, heads sales in Germany, from Duesseldorf. More people will be joining in September/October.
Zito was with Silversea until May, parting on good terms. There, he worked on ship upgrades and newbuild plans, including expedition ship Silver Origin.
Cultural cruising and itinerary distinctions
Cultural cruising, a concept pioneered in the 1950s by Swan's Tours, focused on the antiquities of Greece, will continue to distinguish the brand. Itineraries will be another differentiating factor, Zito said, with Vodohod's expertise coming into play. Stay tuned; details to come.
Destinations include Antarctica, the Arctic, Russian Far East, Japan, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and New Zealand.
The fact that the first ship won't emerge until late 2021 and the second in second quarter 2022 is 'good timing,' Zito said, given the current global situation. He thinks 2021 will be a challenging year, as well, particularly for big-ship operators, so his fingers are crossed for 2022.
In any case, Zito believes small ships of the type Swan Hellenic will field, along with its remote destinations, will be just the right product for the times.
'Open spaces will provide comfort for the guests, and views,' he said. 'You want to be outside. Everything is happening outside — the wildlife, the scenery. You want to be immersed in the magic of the environment.'
Swan Hellenic's shareholders find the expedition sector ripe for growth. Even though there are many entrants, there's still lots of old tonnage to replace and 'good opportunity for professional operators in that segment.'
Very experienced travelers are the focus. Key source markets for this English-speaking product will be the UK and Europe, along with the US and Australia.
'We want to be a global brand,' Zito said. 'Our intention is to be present with trade partners all over the world. Owned offices in Monaco, London and Duesseldorf will be supplemented by trade partners in other locations, with some specific focus in Asia.
Zito promised a 'five-star, luxury product,' though he eschews the term 'luxury,' preferring 'elegant' instead. Pricing will be 'below Silversea but on the same level as Lindblad, Ponant and others, with variations.' Still to be determined is how inclusive the fares will be.
'We want to be hassle-free,' Zito said. 'Not door-to-door but almost, a product that gives complete peace of mind.'