A&K’s purchase of Crystal Cruises draws applause from the travel industry

The third time was the charm. After at least two previous attempts to buy Crystal Cruises, Manfredi Lefebvre d’Ovidio (Forbes Billionaires, #1929, $1.3 billion) has bought the bankrupt line’s brand and two ocean-going vessels, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. It marks his third adventure on the high seas. In the late 1980s, his family sold Sitmar Cruises to P & O. It then launched Silversea Cruises as one of the first lines with purpose-built luxury cruise ships before selling it last decade to Royal Caribbean in two tranches for $1.25 billion.

The terms of this agreement were not disclosed. However, the commercial publication weekly trips reports that the Serenity, built in 2003, sold for $103 million, and the Symphony, which debuted in 1995, sold for $25 million.

For three decades, Crystal racked up award shelves from publications like Travel+Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler Y cruise ship reviewer as one of the best luxury cruise lines. He was also an innovator in areas such as specialty dining by teaming up with celebrity Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa. Wealthy clients spent six figures securing the same cabin each year for round-the-world cruises and other exotic itineraries lasting two to three months.

This time, Lefebvre will be able to combine ocean luxury with Abercrombie & Kent, the white-shoe travel company he bought in 2019 and is best known for its silver spoon safaris and private jet tours run by founder Geoffrey, akin to James Bond. Kent, who still accompanies some trips.

In a statement, Lefebvre said: “I am excited to start this new chapter and be back in an industry that has always had and will always have a special place in my heart.” He added, “When the opportunity to acquire Crystal Cruises arose, I didn’t think twice. Having my amazing friend and inspirational leader Geoffrey Kent by my side makes this venture even more enjoyable.”

A&K has hired a well-known cruise management company to operate the ships. In a press release, the company said of the selection: “With its unique experience, global scale and passionate team, V.Ships Leisure was the natural choice.”

Crystal’s ships have been moored since January, when troubles at Hong Kong-based parent company Genting led to a series of bankruptcies with its cruise industry holdings, including a German shipyard.

Mary Jean Tully, a leading luxury cruise salesperson and CEO of Tully Luxury Travel, says, “Manfredi is smart… I’m sure he’ll rehire the crew (on board) of the Crystal. That’s what that made the company so successful all these years.”

She points out that the deal doesn’t cover Crystal’s debts, including up to $100 million in deposits for future cruises that were canceled when the line was closed. “A lot of clients were burned out over Crystal’s disappearance,” adds Tully.

Anne Sculley, partner at luxury travel agency EmbarkBeyond, says of the new buyer: “It couldn’t be better. Look how Manfredi built Silversea from the ground up to become the highest-rated luxury cruise line in its category in just a few short years.” . He’s a legend in the industry. I think it’s good for the industry.”

Sculley points out that Lefebvre is popular even with competitors. Viking Cruises founder and president Torstein Hagen named one of the restaurants on his ocean-going ships after Manfredi.

You won’t be surprised if some types of incentives or credits are offered to former Crystal customers and those who lost money. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to give them some kind of thanks for their support. Manfredi is very smart and has always built the best teams, and everything he does has always been very customer focused. I look forward to another winner.” “

James Shillinglaw, editor of insider travel report, adds, “It’s great that he’s back in the cruise industry.” The veteran travel journalist believes more deals could be in the works. He calls Crystal’s five riverboats “a good fit” for A&K, which currently charters riverboats for its European river cruises.

It also looks forward to future orders for new ships. “The (Crystal Ocean) boats have held up wonderfully, but the lifespan will be limited at some point. If you want to make a real attempt, you have to order new boats,” says Shillinglaw.

According to the press announcement, global law firm Paul Hastings LLP acted on behalf of A&K Travel Group Ltd. Callenders Law acted on behalf of A&K Travel Group Ltd. with respect to Bahamian law, while HFW and Stephenson Harwood LLP provided their expertise in maritime law. CMC Capital, Limited advised A&K Travel Group Ltd. on the acquisition.

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