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CEO & President , Yachts of Seabourn

Since the mid-80s Pamela Conover has spent much of her life criss-crossing the globe in the pursuit of cruising excellence. Now, one of the most powerful leaders spearheading the changing face of onboard lifestyle, most recently the route has been between her base in Miami and Genoa in Italy where she has been overseeing the building of Seabourn's new breed of luxury small ships. Occupying her focus has been a commitment to redefining intimate, personalised service and experiences as well as setting boutique hotel style afloat. The Luxury Travel Bible caught up with Pamela on board Seabourn Odyssey, the first of three small ships destined to reshape luxury cruising.
What inspired you to become part of the cruise industry?
I used to be a banker and back in the mid-80s when I became involved in ship financing and financing cruise ships I just fell in love with the industry. One, it was growing back then very, very fast and it just seemed such a wonderful thing to be involved in because it involved travel and it was growing and very dynamic. My first cruise was as a banker on a three-day ship out of Miami. I thought it was absolutely fascinating.

I worked for a cruise line in Greece, then I was with Cunard and now I have the privilege of being at the top of the pyramid in terms of type of product - I don't mean my position. We're the small luxury line catering to high-end. It's just a fantastic product and one that I'm very proud of.

What is the single most defining thing about Yachts of Seabourn?
It's the size and the service. It's the small ships and the sort of service we can deliver onboard with almost a one to one crew ratio. It's very genuine and designed to be very personalised. You may want to experience the product in a different way and it's up to our crew to determine how you want it and deliver it so you get the experience your way.

Pamela Conover
Pamela Conover
What is the next big luxury cruise trend?
I think it's one of growth, clearly, but it continues to be very experiential. People want to go and experience a destination and discover interesting cultures and really feel and taste them firsthand in a very up close and personal way.
Affluent people tend to have experienced a lot. There's an element of having done so much that they are looking for something slightly different and they're also reflecting and realising what is important to them. It all ties in with people who are in their 40s and 50s.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a cruise ship is worthy of the "luxury" tag?
It's definitely size and service, because you can't deliver really high-end luxury unless it's a very small ship. When we designed these ships we kept it at 450 even though we could have put a lot more guests on here. When you go through the ship you see there's an awful lot of space but there is that limiting factor of how many guests you have on board so you can deliver the service one to one.
What is your own personal litmus test for whether a hotel is worthy of the "luxury" tag?
I think it's the same. It's the boutique experience that can really deliver this form of intimate service.
What are your favourite hotels/resorts? (and why)
I would classify my favourite hotels as the Yachts of Seabourn because we think of them as hotels. I tend to be in hotels from a business purpose, but I don't go and stay in a hotel for pleasure. I would go and do that on a ship any day.
It's the ability to go places and not have the hassle of packing and unpacking. You get on once, you sort yourself out, the ship takes you to different places. So you sail in the evening from one place and you arrive at the destination and you just see things from a great perspective and you meet fascinating people onboard. To me it's so carefree and I find that very relaxing.
What is your favourite port visit?
I have so many. Clearly Sydney is an extraordinary port to sail into, but also, for us, we go to many small ports that other people can't, so they're really terrific. Sailing through places like Halong Bay in Vietnam in the small ships where you've got these huge giant limestone structures and the ship is going in between that - it's magical.
One of the moments that absolutely sticks with me was sailing down the Thames. Being British it was a very memorable moment: going down the Thames on the Seabourn Pride on a summer afternoon with the sun going down. We were going east and the sun was setting in the west behind us.
Seabourn Odyssey Pool
Seabourn Odyssey Pool
Seabourn Odyssey at Sea
Seabourn Odyssey at Sea
What is your best overseas restaurant experience?
I'm based in Florida and one of my favourites is Charlie Palmer - which is why we have him on the ship (as consultant chef). He has restaurants in New York, Vegas, California and Chicago now. He was one of the first to do a three storey wine chimney and he has this incredible one in Aureole in Vegas. I remember seeing it years before anyone else was doing it with wine waiters shimmying up and down in harnesses.
I keep trying different things on the menu - except for dessert. If it's chocolate I have to have it.
What is your favourite airline for business or first class? Why?
Airlines I choose via destination. The one I take the most is British Airways because I'm mostly going back and forth to Europe because that's where we're building the ships - in Genoa. It's a routing issue for me. Whatever flies where I'm going.
What three things do you never travel without?
My Blackberry, my phone and my running shoes. I have a separate phone because I like to be on the phone and read my messages at the same time. You want to be reading someone's email and discussing it. I go running in the morning - always - for about 5km. At home I do it outside, but generally when I'm travelling I do it in the gyms on the treadmill.
What is the one luxury travel experience you will never forget?
The ones that have been the most memorable for me are the ones shared with family and friends. When I get to travel with them, that's when it really comes to life for me. I went back with my sister to Bangkok where we were born and that was very special.
Seabourn Odyssey Maiden visit to Sydney
Seabourn Odyssey Maiden visit to Sydney Harbour
What is the most important thing (travelwise) that money CAN buy?
A top-end luxury experience. People like to do different things, but I like to stay in a luxury place and have great food. Some people would rather not pay for their accommodation and go camping - I'm taking an extreme - and save that money for other things. Not for me, I would go for high-end accommodation with my luxury bed and bathtub rather than camping out and sleeping under the stars.
The ultimate luxury to me is to be carefree which is coming back to why I travel on ships. So much of my time is planned out and scheduled and going from this meeting to that meeting and on this plane. So to have that taken away and just have the time to relax and be taken from here to there, that is wonderful.
What is the most important thing it can't?
You can buy most things, but you can't buy the memories and the shared experiences. The memories of places and the people you meet are just priceless.

Conover's Choice

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