The third time was the charm. After at least two previous attempts to buy Crystal Cruises, Ovidio’s Manfredi Lefebvre (UKTN Billionaires, #1929, $1.3 billion) bought the bankrupt line’s brand and two ocean-going ships, Crystal Serenity and Crystal Symphony. This is his third adventure on the high seas. In the late 1980s, his family sold Sitmar Cruises to P&O. He then launched Silversea Cruises as one of the first lines with purpose-built luxury cruise ships before selling it the 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 trip reports that the Serenity, built in 2003, sold for $103 million, and the Symphony, which debuted in 1995, went for $25 million.
For three decades, Crystal has racked up shelves of awards from publications like Travel + Leisure, Conde Nast Traveler and cruise review as a luxury cruise line. He was also an innovator in areas like specialty restaurants in partnership with celebrity Nobuyuki “Nobu” Matsuhisa. Well-heeled customers spent six figures securing the same cabin every year for world cruises and other exotic itineraries that lasted two to three months.
This time, Lefebvre will be able to combine ocean luxury with Abercrombie & Kent, the white-shoe travel agency he bought in 2019 and which is best known for its silver spoon safaris and private jet tours led by its James Bond founder Geoffrey Kent, who still accompanies certain trips.
In a statement, Lefebvre said, “I am thrilled to begin this new chapter and to be back in an industry that has always had and always will have a special place in my heart.” He added: “When the opportunity arose to acquire Crystal Cruises, I didn’t think twice. Having my incredible friend and inspirational leader Geoffrey Kent by my side makes this adventure even more enjoyable.
A&K hired a well-known cruise ship management company to operate the ships. In a press release, the company said of the selection, “With their unique experience, global reach and passionate team, V.Ships Leisure was the natural choice.”
Crystal’s ships have been moored since January, when problems 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 top luxury cruise saleswoman and CEO of Tully Luxury Travel, said: “Manfredi is smart… I’m sure he will rehire the crew (onboard) of the Crystal. This is what has made the company successful for all these years. “
She notes that the agreement does not cover Crystal’s debts, including up to $100 million in deposits for future cruises that were canceled when the line closed. “Many customers have been burned by Crystal’s disappearance,” Tully adds.
Anne Sculley, partner at luxury travel agency EmbarkBeyond, says of the new buyer: “It couldn’t be better. Watch how Manfredi built Silversea from the ground up to become the luxury cruise line in just a few years. highest rated in its class. . He’s a legend in the industry. I think it’s good for the industry.”
Sculley notes that Lefebvre is popular even with competitors. Viking Cruises founder and chairman Torstein Hagen named one of the restaurants on his ocean-going ships Manfredi.
She won’t be surprised if certain types of incentives or credits are offered to former Crystal customers and those who have lost money. “It wouldn’t be a bad idea to say thank you to them for your support. Manfredi is very savvy, and he’s always built the best teams, and everything he does has always been very customer-focused. I expect a 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 thinks other deals could be on the way. He calls Crystal’s five riverboats a “good choice” for A&K, which currently charters riverboats for its European river cruises.
He also expects future orders for new vessels. “The (Crystal Ocean) ships have been beautifully maintained, but the lifespan will be limited at some point. If he really wants to be successful, he must commission new ships,” Shillinglaw said.
According to the press announcement, global law firm Paul Hastings LLP acted for A&K Travel Group Ltd. Callenders Law acted for A&K Travel Group Ltd. with respect to Bahamian law, while HFW and Stephenson Harwood LLP provided maritime law expertise. CMC Capital, Limited advised A&K Travel Group Ltd. in connection with the acquisition.