Last year was a busy one for P&O Cruises. Not only did the cruise line launch its new flagship, Britannia, the largest vessel ever built for the UK market, with the Queen as its godmother, it also underwent several staff changes as part of a wider restructure at Carnival UK, its parent company.
The headline news was that Paul Ludlow, a Carnival veteran of 16 years, had returned to P&O Cruises, after six years working at sister band Princess Cruises, to take up the role of senior vice-president, sales and marketing. “With Britannia having launched just last year, there’s a real buzz around the place,” he tells cruise adviser.
Here he discusses the enduring importance of travel agents and how the “yet to cruise” UK market has the potential for “exponential growth”.
Cruise Adviser: How do you attract new to cruise customers?
Paul Ludlow: One thing is television advertising — we’ve now developed a great relationship with Rob Brydon [who appears in the line’s ‘This is the Life’ adverts]. I think people really empathise with Rob; when he’s enjoying himself on our holidays, I think they can see themselves in his place. We’ve also taken out a lot of the jargon that used to be associated with cruise holidays, and we’ve really worked with our travel agent partners to give them better tools and more comprehensive information, so they can answer customers’ questions. It’s really a combination of doing all those things, opening people’s eyes to cruise. I think once they do, they can see the value it represents.
How much room for growth is there in the ex-UK market?
There’s huge room for growth. We spend a lot of time surveying the ‘yet-to-cruise’ passengers, as we refer to them. We don’t talk about people who haven’t cruised — we talk about people who are yet to cruise. We look at a number of a different ‘lenses’ of the UK population, whether it be the ability to buy a certain product over a certain price, or, say, time available to them to take a cruise.
When we look at that there are literally millions of people in the UK market who are yet to cruise. The market has huge potential. We are still only getting started with the number of people who are going to cruise in the next few years.
Is this growth reliant on new ships and thus greater capacity?
What the cruise lines are increasingly doing better is differentiating their products. When you take one brand versus another, it’s become much clearer to customers about what each of those brands offer. I think as long as we, and our competitors, continue to differentiate, the market can expand exponentially.
Everyone is different; one cruise passenger is not the same as the next. If we group them as one homogenous group, with all the same tastes and interests, we won’t expand the market as well as we could do. If we can appeal to individuality, we will expand the market even more.
Is the ex-UK market too heavily weighted towards the south?
No – and the reason I don’t think so is because Southampton is one of the best cities in the UK in terms of access, whether people take trains or drive or even fly — as we’re increasingly seeing some of our northern cruise passengers do. Southampton is also an incredibly efficient port, which really does help people with their journey arrangements, and there are few other ports around the country that have reached the same level of capacity opportunity that Southampton offers us at the moment. We are always looking at this stuff — but we do really respond to our guests’ feedback and at the moment they are telling us it works for them.
How important is the trade to P&O Cruises?
It’s incredibly important. The vast majority of our bookings come through our trade partners. Since my short time in the role, I’ve expressed several times the importance of the trade.
One of the first moves I made was to appoint Alex White who very successfully led sales efforts for Princess Cruises with our travel trade partners, and really strengthened Princesses’ partnership with the trade.
I have brought Alex in to do that same work and evolve it for P&O Cruises.
How can agents find out more?
Many ways. We’ve got our team, who they can speak to, we can go visit them or speak to them on the phone, whatever their preference might be. We also have a number of online tools, such as completecruisesolution.com. We’ve done a series of webinars, and we also do ship visits, and an online training journey, on our academy. The list is extensive! We want agents to tell us what they need and we’ll serve them however they choose.
What impact has Britannia had so far?
It has really evolved the P&O Cruises’ brand. There are many things that we’ve done on Britannia that we’d never done before, such as the cookery school, led by James Martin, to give just one example. It’s enabling us to offer options to our guests that we’ve never had before. It’s been very well received — it gives us a great platform for the future.