The Art of Itinerary Planning: an interview with Claudius Docekal
With the recent release of Azamara Club Cruise’s 2016 itineraries I am, as ever, awestruck by both the line-up of new and creative voyages, and the years of skilled creativity and world knowledge that went into planning and designing this lineup.
I don’t dole this praise lightly. I mean it as the most sincere compliment. A boutique cruise line succeeds or fails based on the quality and variety of voyages offered. The true maestro behind-the-scenes at any successful cruise line is the person designing the itineraries. And Azamara has one of the best I’ve seen: Claudius Docekal, in charge of Deployment & Destinations.
Claudius was born in Vienna, Austria, calls the USA home, but is a citizen of the world. He’s on the road more days in a year than he can count.
Claudius has been planning itineraries for more than two decades and that includes river cruises, expedition cruises, luxury cruises, large-ship up-scale cruises, as well as private jet and deluxe land tours.
I’ve interviewed Claudius for this week’s column:
Bonnie: So Claudius, what’s new and exciting about the 2016 lineup of itineraries you’ve just published for the Azamara Journey and the Azamara Quest?
Claudius: Well, besides offering maiden calls to 44 ports around the world, we’ve designed a raft of new voyages that can be combined into Extended Voyages…some that last virtually months without repeating a port! For example, you could board the Azamara Quest in Auckland, NZ on January 31 and stay onboard until May 25, disembarking in Nice, France, just in time to enjoy the annual Monaco Grand Prix, Formula One races. That’s nearly four months onboard with only one port repeated (Singapore) and at least a dozen maiden calls for the Quest.
Bonnie: Are Extended Voyages important to Azamara?
Claudius: Yes, they’re very important to us. We’ve built our reputation as the Destination Immersion line. Having smaller ships that circumnavigate the globe allows unlimited options for the world-cruiser. And our loyal Le Club Voyage members (repeat guests) are looking for something new each year.
Bonnie: And how do you go about designing ‘a voyage’ and an entire year of such voyages?
Claudius: I am constantly planning our future voyage itineraries. Believe it or not I have ideas and planning notes for each year up to 2023! These planning notes are continuously being updated with thoughts and new ideas. There are too many factors to include in your article but here are the major factors I consider:
- We try to include new ports as well as combinable voyages for our loyal Le Club Voyage members.
- We balance those cruises with the tried & true Caribbean and Mediterranean voyages to attract new ‘first time to Azamara’ guests who will hopefully become Le Club Voyage members.
- I listen to feedback, watch what is selling and try to predict the future demand.
- I incorporate, or sometimes avoid, any significant world and regional events, such as the Olympics, World Cup Games, Monaco Gran Prix, etc.
- All of this is tempered by world and regional political situations
Then I overlay operational considerations such as fuel availability, tides, ideal ship speed, provisioning and water availability, port fees, local laws, etc. etc. And really, there are so many other considerations such as airlift, competition, and final retail cost of each voyage.
Bonnie: It is truly one big puzzle with a myriad of factors as well as a moving time element. Each day brings you closer to the first release (like we just saw this week with 2016 itineraries) and then the actual sailing date continues to draw closer, during which anything could happen geo-politically to impact demand!
So it is multi-dimensional as you monitor trends, sales, world events, etc. And you have to watch not just one year, but all years ranging from current sailings to those 10 years hence!
As I said in my preamble, you and your team are truly the creative wizards behind-the-scenes!