Jeannine Williamson profiles the line as it celebrates its 180th anniversary, making it the world’s oldest cruise company in operation and the UK’s biggest
Its roots go back to 1837 when the Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation Company started a passenger and mail service from the UK to Spain and Portugal. In 1904 P&O launched ‘pleasure cruises’ and at one time was best known for Canberra, the line’s only ship based in the UK which sailed in the fleet from 1961 to 1997. Today the line’s fleet of eight ships sail from its Southampton homeport calling at 225 destinations in 90 countries, with itineraries ranging from short taster cruises to round the world voyages.
Taking pride in its heritage, P&O offers traditional-style cruising, with food, entertainment and activities firmly geared towards to the British market. The majority of passengers are typically a mature, over-60s crowd, many of whom are fiercely loyal to P&O and have sailed with the line for years – sometimes even decades. This demographic changes markedly on mini-cruises, which attract hen and stag parties and groups of families and friends celebrating birthdays, anniversaries and other occasions.
Paul Ludlow, P&O Cruises’ senior vice president, said: “We are proud to be Britain’s favourite cruise line with one in two ex-UK cruise holidays taken with P&O. While constantly striving to keep current guests happy, it’s also important to attract younger guests. Travel agents are critical to getting the right people on the right ship. Our goal is to produce multi-channel communications with positive messages and wide appeal that will increase cruise consideration. It’s all about psychographics rather than demographics – identifying what clients really want from a holiday and providing that for them.
“We know there is still huge potential as more people realise the value for money, choice and range of dining and entertainment options available on our ships. Itineraries range from two days to three months and there is a cruise to suit every budget. This is an exciting time for us because of the market potential.”
The fleet ranges in size from the intimate 710-passenger adult only Adonia to the flagship Britannia, launched in 2015 and currently the largest in the fleet carrying 3,647 passengers and featuring the line’s first single balcony cabins. The other ships in the fleet are the adult only Oriana, launched in 1995 and the oldest ship in the fleet, and Arcadia, carrying 1,880 and 2,904 passengers respectively. In addition to Britannia, P&O’s family-friendly ships are the 2,016-passenger Oceana, 3,100-passenger Azura and 3,078-passenger Ventura.
Big news from P&O in 2016 was the announcement of a ninth ship due to enter service in 2020. At 180,000 tons, it will have a capacity for 5,200 guests, making it the largest cruise ship ever built for the British market. Focal point will be an all-weather entertainment hub called The Dome, which has a pool with a retractable stage. The new ship, which is currently unnamed, will go on sale in autumn 2018.
Ludlow added: “Choice, flexibility and the ability to create individual holiday experiences on board will be at the heart of the new ship which, thanks to an innovative use of space, will offer an extensive range of dining, entertainment and relaxing areas. It will play a pivotal role in redefining the brand and broadening our appeal.”