It’s anchors away for the LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton cruise retail business.
The luxury giant said it cut a deal to sell a majority stake of Cruise Line Holdings Co. — parent to the Starboard and Onboard Cruise Services businesses — to a group of private investors led by Jim Gissy. The transaction is expected to close in the next few days.
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LVMH said, “The new investors are strategic partners in the vacation retail space with a culture of innovation and a growth mindset.”
Starboard has worked to make the cruise ship a shopping destination in its own right with more than 700 duty-free shops offering indulgences from fine jewelry and Swiss watches to leather accessories and beauty products.
Lisa Bauer, the travel industry veteran who became chief executive officer of Starboard in 2019, will continue to lead the company along with her executive team.
“They will be charged with accelerating the strong post-COVID[-19] pandemic business momentum and developing new cruise retail opportunities, as well as land-based vacation retail,” the luxury group said. “LVMH will continue as an important minority shareholder in this new company.”
Bauer said: “We are so energized with the new opportunities that will open up to us. The entire leadership team is focused on taking the tremendous progress we have made and directing that toward continuing success in 2024 and beyond.”
At sea, the retail business involves familiar brand names but the presentation, context and experience can be very different. Starboard operated 82 cruise ships as of the end of last year.
In an interview with the National Retail Federation this year, Bauer noted that at least 50 percent of the guests on board are celebrating some kind of a milestone.
“To commemorate the occasion, we suggest private retail appointments or a concierge for store outings,” she said. “Experiential retail would also be things that are exclusive, like a local artist from Barcelona that comes aboard and hand-paints on silk scarves.
“One of the funniest things we do is on the Royal Caribbean ships, called the Rising Tide Watch and Scotch event, where guests learn about luxury Swiss timepieces paired with premium scotch as they ascend deck levels,” Bauer said. “Five ships in the Oasis-class series have something called the Rising Tide Bar that goes from Deck Five to the top. On Deck Five we have entry-level watches paired with reasonably priced scotch. On Deck Six, it’s higher-price-point watches and scotch, all the way to the top. It feels like it’s part of the experience, not just retail.”
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