This year will see two heavyweight cruise lines bring their newest toys to British shores. This week, P&O’s Britannia will sail its maiden voyage and become the biggest cruise ship built for the UK market. One month later it will be joined by Royal Caribbean International’s (RCI) second Quantum-class vessel, Anthem of the Seas.
Both ships are a major boost for the ex-UK market. But what gives P&O and RCI the confidence that their new vessels will be a success in an area that many lines have traditionally struggled with.
We asked Christopher Edgington, marketing director for P&O and Ben Bouldin, sales director for Royal Caribbean International to explain how they intend to fight for the British market.
Christopher Edgington, marketing director for P&O Cruises
Why will Britannia be in Southampton?
We want to show Britannia as the newest version of P&O’s expertise and we believe Southampton is where she needs to call home. There is definitely capacity in the marketplace and we know we can create an extraordinary holiday experience.
What gives you the impression there is capacity?
Such a small percentage of Britain regularly cruise yet it is fantastic value and an exciting holiday option. It’s been hidden for too long and given the improving economy, people will increasingly be able to discover cruising for themselves. The facilities that are onboard modern cruise ships, will help people realise that cruising isn’t just for the older generation.
How strong would you say the UK cruise market is right now?
The British cruise market is in fantastic shape. There are some wonderful ships coming to Southampton, which will bring in millions to the local economy. If you think of the celebrity chefs, entertainment onboard and the huge capital investment that goes into these ships, this is a particularly strong time for cruising.
What’s unique about P&O?
We are the only cruise line that is tailored towards Britain. We are an island and we are a very different type of person. So to have a holiday that is tailored specifically towards your British tastes makes us unique in the market.
Can you give me an example of how P&O is trying to attract the ‘new to cruise’ market?
We are focusing on the universal truth about choosing any holiday. Dining is a big factor and we have the best offering using our five food heroes. These guys who are at the very epicentre of what is great about British food. Something else that we need to highlight to new to cruise passengers is that you can wake up in five, 10 or 15 different places, immerse yourself in those cultures and then get back onboard a ship which is fundamentally British at heart.
What part does the trade play to P&O’s future strategy?
The trade is absolutely crucial. They are the very lifeblood of what we do. It is impossible for me as an individual to go out and talk to the 420,000-450,000 passengers that we’ll have over the course of the year but travel agents have that access across their network. These talented people do everything they can to bring our holidays to life on the high street and we’ll do everything we can to help them.
How do agents get onboard?
We would welcome any agent who wants to work with us or improve their existing relationship with us. As a company we are creating very strong marketing materials that we will share with anyone who is interested and getting agents onboard is absolutely at the core of that. Contact a member of our team and we can arrange that for you.
Ben Bouldin, sales director for Royal Caribbean International
Why will Anthem of the Seas be sailing out of the UK?
Royal Caribbean has 22 ships, with three ships currently under construction. We believe in the sector and we believe in the category we are in. We have huge confidence that this is a growth part of the business. When we look at our markets around the world, Southampton is one of our most strategically important. We believe the growth is here to support that new ship and we’re proving it by bringing a ship into Southampton that holds 500 passengers more than the ship it is replacing.
How do you define your British market?
If I’m honest, from its marketing materials Royal Caribbean looks like it targets an adventure traveller. That is a position I’m keen to change. It is not entirely who we are. We do many things that differentiate us but we can’t forget about our core customers. The Quantum-class vessels will help us redefine our brand because they have something on it for everyone.
The big family brands (Carnival, MSC, Norwegian) have all shied away from the UK in recent times. Why will Royal Caribbean succeed where they have failed?
We believe in the product we have. I am yet to meet a trade partner or consumer who hasn’t recognised the quality of Royal Caribbean. I know we have a great product and I know we have great service and I know that the UK is where we need to be. We are prepared to go head-to-head with anyone who wants to support the market here. I would also argue that we are restricting ourselves by just being seen as a family product. I would say that Royal Caribbean is more international than that.
How are you going to get this message out to the trade?
As we approach the launch of the ship we will be announcing more and more about what’s going to be onboard. We have already had Dynamic Dining where we sent boxes of Jamie Oliver goodies out to trade partners and invited people to eat in his restaurants. We will run similar initiatives with the entertainment too. The launch of Quantum was a great opportunity to get the trade on a similar product before the launch of its UK-based sister ship.
How can agents get on board?
I totally buy into the idea that agents will need to experience the product properly to be able to sell it. When you sail on a ship it comes to life. We will be taking close to 80 agents out to the Caribbean in the next few months. Agents need to complete our Cruising for Excellence program online and gain Captain status. Once they have achieved that they can apply for our Seminar at Seas. However you don’t have to be a Captain to go on a day trip. The first step would be to speak to a local Royal Caribbean representative.