Seatrade Cruise News is part of the Informa Markets Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

Industry mourns Gerry Herrod, visionary, serial cruise line founder, mentor

A colleague called Gerry Herrod a 'remarkable person, unique as an individual owner in an industry obsessed with growth and scale' and 'totally committed to his own vision and attention to detail'
Gerry Herrod, who launched multiple travel companies and cruise lines and mentored many, died Friday in Switzerland, where he made his home. He was 96.

Herrod founded and led Travellers International, a leading tour operator that created programs for American Express, TWA Getaway Vacations and others. He started Ocean Cruise Lines, Orient Lines, Voyages of Discovery and Voyages to Antiquity.

Vision, creativity, drive and determination

Known for his vision, creativity, drive and determination, Herrod had a knack for spotting travel opportunities. He also inspired tremendous loyalty in his people, both on the ships and ashore. He mentored a number of executives who rose to helm his and other companies.

Herrod was a forerunner of cruise-tours, brought new life to older ships, created innovative itineraries to destinations rarely charted by sea and was a proponent of destination-intensive cruises. He also was instrumental in founding Global Marine Travel, was an initial investor in Oceania Cruises and part-owner of ID Tours New Zealand.

'I loved Gerry and considered him a close friend for nearly 30 years,' said Frank Del Rio, Oceania Cruises founder and former CEO, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings. He called Herrod a 'big part' of Oceania's launch as the third largest investor after Del Rio himself and Rafael Ordóñez of Apollo Ship Chandlers. 

'Mentor and tormenter'

'He was a mentor and tormentor to me,' Del Rio quipped, 'as he always challenged my decisions, especially on shipbuilding — he abhorred the massive cruise ships of today — and on itinerary deployments.' 

According to Mitchell Schlesinger, a senior executive at Orient Lines and Voyages to Antiquity, 'Gerry was brilliant at recognizing opportunities to create unique niche brands that focused on immersive destination programs and employed ships purpose-designed to deliver the desired experience. He had the most extraordinary knowledge of the world's geography of anyone I ever worked with or met.' 

In a 2010 story, journalist/maritime historian Peter Knego wrote 'Herrod's name is synonymous with off-the-beaten-track, itinerary- and-culture-rich cruising for the well-heeled, adventure-seeking traveler.'

Travellers International

David Yellow, who at 24 joined Travellers International, witnessed Herrod's dynamism and creativity during the 1970s when the travel industry underwent tremendous growth with the introduction of affordable trans-Atlantic airfares.

After working with Poly Tours in New York, Herrod convinced American Express he could do better in planning their tours and launched Travellers in 1963. This was before flying became mainstream, and trans-Atlantic trips were mainly by ocean liner or one way by ship and one way by air.

At first Travellers planned the tours and produced the brochures for American Express and operated land tours for TWA. When the American Express contract ended, Herrod's company began planning and pricing tours and producing brochures at its own in-house design studio, operating TWA Getaway Vacations, SAS Viking Vacations, Cunard Tours of Europe and Travellers' own charter programs. 

Travellers had offices in London, New York, Los Angeles, Dublin, Paris, Rome, Madrid, Basel, Athens, Tel Aviv, Copenhagen and Cairo. 

'Gerry set a standard that other operators strived to follow in terms of quality, price and innovations,' Yellow said. For example, coach operators were required to have a uniform livery to his designs, inside and out, plus driver uniforms.

Besides Yellow, who advanced to become GM or managing director of Herrod's successive companies, Travellers employed Debbie Natansohn as creative director in New York. She went on to play an important role in the development of cruise products and later served as president of Orient Lines, SVP of Cunard and president of Seabourn.

Ocean Cruise Lines

In the early 1980s, TWA Getaway carried more than 25,000 passengers a year on Greek Islands, Mediterranean and river cruises. Herrod identified a gap in the market for a first class cruise product designed for Americans and launched Ocean Cruise Lines in 1983, running it alongside Travellers, which he sold in 1986.

He acquired and refit the 460-passenger Ocean Princess and 250-passenger Ocean Islander, deploying them on destination-intensive Greek Islands, Mediterranean and Scandinavia/Baltic cruises in the summer and Caribbean/South America cruises the rest of the year — including, with the help of Lars-Eric Lindblad, voyages with limited capacity to Antarctica. In 1987, Ocean Cruise Lines expanded to Asia by buying Pearl of Scandinavia from Pearl Cruises.

Throughout, Herrod fostered the cruise-tour concept by including pre- and post-cruise land packages in the price.

Orient Lines

As the cruise market grew, he saw the need for larger vessels and sold Ocean Cruise Lines to Paquet Cruises in 1990. A year later, Herrod acquired the East German-built Soviet ship  Alexandr Pushkin, which underwent a major refit in Greece and began operating as the 800-passenger Marco Polo for Herrod's new Orient Lines in 1993.

With an ice-strengthened hull, Marco Polo was able to cruise almost anywhere.

Its destination-intensive cruise-tours developed a loyal following in the UK, US, Australia and in New Zealand, where Orient Lines obtained permission to operate weeklong all-New Zealand cruises. Herrod, together with Craig Harris (founding chairman of the New Zealand Cruise Association), lobbied the government for a cabotage exemption, making that possible.

Once again Herrod sensed the market changing and sold Orient Lines to Norwegian Cruise Line in 1998, continuing as advisor for a year. Because cruise ships were getting bigger, he envisioned a niche for smaller vessels that could go places the big ships couldn't.

Voyages of Discovery/Discovery Cruises

Herrod acquired Island Princess (of 'The Love Boat' fame) and, after a major refit, it was introduced as the 680-passenger Discovery in 2003. The vessel was chartered to Voyages of Discovery for the summer months and operated by Discovery Cruises in South America and Antarctica the rest of the year. He sold Discovery Cruises to Voyages of Discovery in 2005.

Voyages to Antiquity

Herrod's next venture was Voyages to Antiquity. Inspired by Lord John Julius Norwich's 'The Middle Sea: A History of the Mediterranean,' the line's itineraries were based on ancient Mediterranean civilizations. Aegean Dolphin underwent a major refit, reducing capacity from 570 passengers to 380 passengers, to begin sailing in 2009 as Aegean Odyssey.

The cruises explored Sicily in-depth, visited formerly off-limits places like Libya and Syria and branched out to Myanmar when the country newly opened to international tourism. Noted historians, authors and geopolitical experts provided enrichment.

Since destinations were such a focus, shore excursions were included in the price for Discovery and Voyages to Antiquity. Also included, uncommon for the time, were gratuities and wine with dinner.

Pioneer in itinerary design, master of land operations

'I was continually amazed how intimately familiar [Herrod] was with the “geo-condition” of the destinations on all seven continents included in our itineraries at Orient Lines and Voyages to Antiquity,' Schlesinger said. He considers Herrod a pioneer in itinerary design; from decades of running Travellers, he'd mastered the land operations, which led to brand hallmarks like cruise-tours, ship overnights in port, land-based extensions mid-cruise and immersive shore programs.

'Gerry was a fantastic mentor and an even better business partner,' according to Tim Davey, founder and managing director, Global Marine Travel, a leading marine industry travel provider. 'His life formula of caring for his team members and giving back to the community resonates throughout everything we do today.'

Herrod was the equity partner for GMT at its 2001 founding in Florida. In 2009, he and Davey partnered again to buy a majority interest in ID Tours New Zealand, one of the country's leading destination management companies.  

Davey said Herrod's contribution to New Zealand's cruise industry will never be forgotten as he paved the way for foreign-flag cruises around its islands.

From tank driver to tour guide

Born in northern England, June 10, 1927, Herrod joined the army at 16 as a tank driver during World War II. Being stationed in France at the end of the war to take part in the clean-up operations ignited his love for language, travel and adventure.

Herrod worked in Paris for a hotel and tour group, guided bus tours to Venice and worked in a travel company's London office. He obtained temporary employment on Queen Elizabeth 2 to get paid passage to the US, which he saw as a country of opportunity.

As it turned out, he gave opportunity to see the world to many thousands of travelers over decades and was instrumental in the careers of industry figures like Yellow, Natansohn, Schlesinger, Davey, Bob Iversen (president of Ocean Cruise Lines, MD of Silversea Cruises), Andrea Corman, Jim Winch, Gary Gerbino, Jim Frank and others.

'Unique as an individual owner in an industry obsessed with growth and scale'

A colleague called him a 'remarkable person, unique as an individual owner in an industry obsessed with growth and scale' and 'totally committed to his own vision and attention to detail' while also caring for his people.

Davey said: 'He had a great innings and will sorely be missed.'

Herrod is survived by a son, Chris.

A private service is planned. Colleagues expect to gather in Florida for a celebration of life in August.