As they introduce two new ships and hook up with Gary Barlow, P&O Cruises’ Paul Ludlow and Alex Delamere-White talk success with Sam Ballard
P&O Cruises is a company in transition. Over the next five years the line’s fleet will increase by 55 per cent as it introduces two of the biggest ships to ever be based in the UK. The first of them, Iona, is due to be delivered in the next few months. The 5,200 guest ship will come with a raft of features that are new to P&O, from the SkyDome entertainment venue, to new food concepts and spaces for music – including a recently announced partnership with Gary Barlow. Cruise Adviser sat down with P&O’s president Paul Ludlow and Alex Delamere-White, vice president of sales & distribution.
What does Iona mean to P&O?
Paul Ludlow: P&O cruises represents the best of Britain. It always reflects the Britain of the day. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we’ve been so successful, we have always been able to dial into trends, consumer habits and people’s desires in order to reflect a holiday to them which they are going to enjoy. Iona continues to allow us to be really relevant. It allows us to create stories to give people memories that they’re going to treasure and we’ve got enormous amount of momentum as a brand at the moment. We’re the UK market leader. We’ve had an incredible 2019 and with stories such as Iona and her sister ship in 2022 we can just keep that momentum going and ensure that we continue to create holidays that people are going to love.
What does it mean for the wider sector?
It creates excitement for the sector, undoubtedly. Things such as our reveal of Gary Barlow show that the sector moves at a pace like no other. People are innovating, people are evolving in a way which continues to create incredible consumer excitement. And so, yes, P&O cruises is doing fantastically well, but all of the stories that this sector creates help create demand. And the growth the sector has seen in the last 10 years has been like no other sector in the UK holiday market. The reason why we’ve been so successful is because we keep innovating. The value that consumers get from a cruise holiday is like no other. And because they can trust us they keep coming back.
Why did you guys choose Gary Barlow? What was it about him?
Paul Ludlow: For so many reasons. We share some characteristics. The first one of which is that we’re British. The second one is that we have a multigenerational appeal. A 10-year-old will love our holidays and love Gary Barlow and my grandma will love our holidays and love Gary Barlow. He is also a legend who’s had this longevity. He’s come through great times, tougher times, and then great times again, and just always been there as part of the fabric of British culture. He is universally loved and I believe that we are too. We’ve got this longevity of over 180 years. And when you start bringing together some of the aspects of our two brands, it just fits so well.
When it comes to the trade, how have you engaged with them?
Alex White: We have had a huge amount of engagement in Iona since the outset. We have talked about it ever since we revealed the name in May 2018 and have been building excitement within the trade since then. That’s been reflected in the performance: Iona is the most successful launch in P&O Cruises history. The month we started selling, in September 2018, was the best month ever for travel agent sales. The success of Iona has been a mutual effort between us and the trade. The trade continue to be are most significant route of distribution. Iona would not have been as successful without their incredible support. In terms of specifics, we’ve done some really cool stuff that’s been broad in focus, from training and engagement for the whole trade, but then we’ve been focused with our Iona Insiders, which is a group of six agents who were selected through a competition to be the ambassadors of our new ship. We’ve taken them out to the Fjords to experience shore excursions, we’ve taken them to the Canaries where Iona will be sailing to in the Winter. They were part of our brand announcements. Travel agents now have a really strong understanding of what Iona is about, what will make it different. This is a transformational time for the brand and I hope that is being reflected in what we’re doing.
What is the feature you’re most looking forward to seeing on Iona?
Paul Ludlow: The triple height atrium. There is a coffee shop where you will be adjacent to a triple height glass window, where you will be able to have your coffee and watch the world go by. That’s going to be amazing.
Alex White: For me it’s the SkyDome. The space it occupies is unprecedented. It will cover three floors, it is somewhere to go swimming in the day and partying in the evening. In one venue it will sum up everything we’re trying to do with Iona.