After buying Seabourn Odyssey, Japanese cruise line to put focus on U.S.

Andrea Zelinski

Japanese shipping company Mitsui O.S.K. Lines (MOL) wants to diversify its portfolio by expanding further into the cruise business and attracting international guests.

Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Line, the company’s cruise division, had established itself as a small cruise line tailored almost exclusively to the Japanese market. It has one ship, the Nippon Naru. But to advance the company’s plans for expansion into the well-being and leisure sector, it last month announced a surprise acquisition of the 458-passener Seabourn Odyssey, to double its fleet.

As the line looks to grow, it plans to position itself internationally as the best way to see Japan, with a Japanese experience on its ships, such as authentic food and Omotenashi service – the Japanese mindset of hospitality and care.

“There’s a deep reflection of the culture onboard the ship,” said Anthony Kaufman, senior executive advisor for MOL, speaking of his experience on the Nippon Naru.

“For those that want that kind of luxury experience, a unique way to visit Japan in a comfortable way so they don’t have to take the trains, take the buses, worry about the language — everything like that will be taken care of for them,” said Kaufman, who has held senior positions within Carnival Corp. brands and Holland America Group and spent time developing the inbound and outbound markets in Japan.

The Odyssey will change hands after Seabourn finishes sailing its published voyages through Aug. 22, 2024. The Odyssey is expected to begin service for the cruise line under a new name by the end of 2024. MOL now plans to build two new 600-passenger ships as part of its expansion plan. Both are planned to be completed by 2028. 

To work through the transition from focusing on the Japanese market to an international one, the company plans changes to the Odyssey such as adding signage in English and Japanese, changing its electrical outlets, adding bidets to toilets and swapping out equipment in the galley so Japanese food can be authentically prepared. Speaking of food, Kaufman said the menu will be tailored to a Japanese and Western palate.

Yusuke Ueno, president of Mitsui O.S.K. Passenger Line, said the cruise line hasn’t reached out to travel agents about their plans yet, but they expect to announce the new name of the ship, along with its itineraries, to agents this summer.

Sailings would stretch 7 to 10 days, although the addition of a second ship opens the brand to offer further diversity like world cruises, according to the line.

The plan is to market this product in the high premium to the luxury market for American, Australian and Asian cruisers, said Kaufman.

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