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Interview: Ambitions for Greece growth – and beyond

Celestyal Cruises’ Leslie Peden tells Sam Ballard why the Greece specialist is easier for agents to work with than ever before as it focuses on higher capacity

Have you ever been to Greece? Chances are that you have. Brits have been travelling there in ever increasing numbers, whether it’s for the ancient history of Athens or the beautiful beaches of the country’s many islands. And, when it comes to travelling around Greece, there are few companies that can offer as authentic an experience as Celestyal Cruises. The Greek operator, which currently has two ships – Olympia and Crystal – sailing around the Aegean, has ambitions to become a year-round operator, and will also be developing its identity beyond Greece alone. We sat down with Leslie Peden, the company’s chief commercial officer, to hear more about how Celestyal will be embracing travel agents with its new portal and changing the messaging when it comes to its own offering.

Last time we spoke you revealed that a new travel agent portal was on its way. How’s that progressing?

It will be live on February 3, so we’ll now have an online training portal that has various modules attached to it, from introducing Celestyal Cruises to our destinations, which is a really differentiating aspect of our product. We’re also doing quite a big piece of work to create a narrative around our brand. We’ve hired a brand guru to help us craft this. We have all of these amazingly unique Greek ingredients but we need to make sure that they can be translated into the other regions of the world where we sail. Our new 2020 winter Adriatic itineraries are a good example. We visit Greece but once we’ve gone beyond those borders we need something that is portable. That will come through this year in our differentiated marketing messages and how we present the brand to the trade.

Will that see Celestyal become less of a Greek cruise line and more of a Mediterranean one?

Yes, being Mediterranean is key here.We want to reinforce that we are regional experts. However, we don’t want to lose all the components of our Greekness – the warmth and welcome of legendary Greek hospitality for instance. But we will build a narrative around that and build it out.

Will there be a fleet expansion?

Our focus right now is on increasing our capacity rather than fleet expansion. Celestyal Crystal carries between 900 and 1,200 passengers depending on the mix of third and fourth berths. We need a ship with a higher density of balcony staterooms, particularly on those longer seven-night itineraries where we’re developing our deployment. What you could therefore see is us switching to a higher-capacity ship on our most popular seven-night itineraries. It might not mean that we start a ton of new itineraries but instead use current smaller-capacity vessels to do something different.

Is the UK market performing well during what is widely seen as a difficult time economically?

It’s not been difficult for us. Mainly because we’re very much developing and growing our distribution in the UK. We’ve got new partners coming online that we’ve not had previously. What we’re seeing is organic growth from the market as well. The brand is resonating especially due to the appealing all-inclusive nature of our offering. Articles like yours [October] have elevated the brand – so much so that our organic searches on Google are three times greater than they were a year ago. Jane McDonald’s programme worked really well too. The partners we’re working with are really behind what we do because they view us as a differentiated incremental cruise supplier that doesn’t cannibalise their other preferred cruise line sales. No one does Greece like we do, with the authentic and unique destination-rich experience that we have. By aligning with us they can build their own customer base as we drive new to cruise.

How important is the trade?

The trade is key. For us, whether it’s business-to-business or coming through the retail channel, it’s of paramount importance. That’s why we’re adding additional resource to the UK this New Year. We’re adding a business development manager to the north and Ireland. We’re already five in the UK. We’ll be six then. We also recently launched a trade online marketing portal that includes a digital asset library, which has loads of content from a big photo shoot we recently undertook. We’re building up the sales collateral and have increased the number of years we’ve got on sale (up until end of 2021, and by April 2020 we will launch 2022 deployment), which means we’re easier to work with than we’ve ever been

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In this issue, we look ahead to the next 12 months, bringing you expert opinion from travel industry leaders as we ask them, where next for cruise? Andy Harmer of Clia, Ben Bouldin of Royal Caribbean International, Lynn Narraway of Seabourn, Craig Upshall of Aurora Expeditions and Neil Barclay of Viking Cruises all share their views, in this special section of the magazine. Click here to read the magazine in full.

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