Last week, Hornblower’s CEO, Terry MacRae, was kind enough to sit down with me for a brief Q&A session to discuss Hornblower New York’s outlook for 2015, and to reflect on the successes and challenges faced over the port’s first three years in operation since opening in 2012.
Me: What initially prompted Hornblower’s expansion to the New York area in 2012?
Terry: Hornblower Cruises has always been interested in the NYC dinner cruise and charter yacht market. As Hornblower is the largest private operator in this industry, it makes sense to be this market as it is one of the largest in the world. The desire began to come to reality when Hornblower won the bid to provide visitor services to the Statue of Liberty/Ellis Island National Monument in 2008, immediately becoming the major passenger vessel operator in the market. We chose to leave the recent recession in the rear view mirror before making a big splash, which gave us a couple of extra years to build two of the most amazing dinner cruise yachts for the market, the elegant and capable 1,200 -passenger Hornblower Infinity, and the greenest and sleekest 600-passenger Hornblower Hybrid.
Me: In relation to Hornblower’s traditional product offerings and their respective audiences, how does the New York market differ from the long-standing ports that the company operates in California?
Terry: The greater New York market is like other Hornblower markets on steroids. More corporate offices, more tourists, more harbor, more sights, more diversity and more competition. The enthusiasm of the entertainment segment of the market is contagious, generating creativity and buzz 24/7 for all of the Hornblower products.
Me: With the acquisition of a Pier 15 location at the South Street Seaport in 2014, we saw Hornblower New York introduce new sightseeing, happy hour and entertainment cruises that were unlike any products offered in the city to date. How do you see Hornblower’s Pier 15 products evolving throughout 2015 and into 2016?
Terry: Hornblower Cruises has always been a leader in the market in providing what the customer wants, when they want it, and a price that creates a great value. The proximity of Pier 15 to both the tourist market and the rapidly expanding downtown locals market has created three new products never before offered in New York Harbor. The premium International Sightseeing Cruise that already has great food and beverage products will soon have options for engaging, educational audio and multimedia tours, while the Alive After Five and Rock The Yacht! products will continue with expanded sailings and new and varied onboard, a la carte product offerings. Of course, in the Hornblower tradition, we will always have our full-service custom charter and special event products on our entire fleet from Pier 15, the newest, hippest, and most fun embarkation Pier in the harbor.
Me: Hornblower is well known for offering some of the most unique on-the-water experiences for corporate event charters out of its Pier 40 location in the West Village. In 2015, which local industries do you feel have the most potential for pulling off amazing events? And why?
Terry: Pier 40 is centrally located between West Village, SoHo and Tribeca, on the scenic Hudson River with 3,000 parking spaces immediately adjacent to our highly visible docks. The location has great subway and transit access from all the boroughs, and a nearby PATH stop. Uber and taxi’s are abundant, so special events are convenient and accessible. As our amazing yachts and turn-key, high-quality events have raised the bar for the entire industry, we have found huge support in the tech sector, pulling off amazing events for companies like Google, Yelp, the NFL and more. We have also been pleasantly surprised at how well our yachts have been booked for experiential marketing and brand introduction events, for clients like Skyy Vodka or Youtube. We are already hosting a huge number of entertainment and concert series like Smooth Jazz, and SOBs, so it wouldn’t surprise me to see some major fashion industry events. What could be a better backdrop for a catwalk than the amazing New York skyline?
Me: Let’s talk hypothetically. If Hornblower New York could host an event for one company or private group aboard the 210-foot Hornblower Infinity, who would it be for? What do you envision?
Terry: With Taylor Swift recently adopting New York City as her home port, and NYC & Co. announcing her role as a spokesperson for New York tourism development, it seems that we need to show everyone that the best way to enjoy New York is from the water. Where else can you see as much, feel as much, taste as much, smell as much and hear as much of a city all at one time as you can from the deck of a Hornblower yacht? The Hornblower Infinity, prior to her complete makeover in 2011, started construction in 1989, the namesake year for Taylor’s newest platinum album. Taylor Swift takes great care of her fans, so I know she would want to bring 1,200 of them along and perform a pop-up concert, maybe producing her next great video hit with a shout-out to New York City. Both Taylor Swift and the Hornblower Infinity are new to the city, fresh, sexy, sleek, well dressed, innovative, great performers, have great fan clubs, and are at the top of the industry.
Me: Lastly, if there’s one thing you can point to from Hornblower New York’s successful 2014 calendar year that you hope will carry on into the future, what is it?
Terry: In addition to Alive After Five and Rock the Yacht! products, Hornblower introduced premium sightseeing cruises for tourists and locals alike from Pier 15 in 2014. Upscale vessels, wide array of food and beverage choices, flexible schedules, and frequent departures were all introduced in 2014. The product were spot on, well received, demand was strong, so we are bringing additional yachts to the market in 2015 for premium sightseeing, public cruises, and continued growth of our custom charter and turn-key special event markets. New York loves us and we love New York!