The news that Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery have cancelled the first cruises of 2017 on their ships Minerva and Voyager has caused consternation among agents with clients booked on future cruises. The cancellations are being seen by many as a precursor to the closure or sale of the two famous names, owned by All Leisure Group.
Voyages of Discovery was due to start a Riches of the Orient Cruise in Malaysia tomorrow, while Swan Hellenic cancelled a Gateway to Atlantic Isles cruise due to start in Marseilles today.
One leading cruise travel agent has described the news as “grim”, while another I spoke to said the developments “sounded ominous.”
The past few years have been difficult times for ALG. It laid off 40 of the 280 staff at its Market Harborough head office in February 2016, and in June was de-listed from the Alternative Investment Market (AIM). Its shares, which were trading for almost 54p in 2014, fell to 1.8p on the decision.
ALG’s turnover for the year to October 2015 was £127 million, down from £139 million the previous year, but with a profit of £500,000 against a £7.5 million loss in 2014, and £13.2 million the previous year.
One factor that kept 2015’s figures out of the red was the £2.9 million sale of their third ship – Hebridean Island Cruise’s Hebridean Princess – to HP Shipping, a company owned by a syndicate of private investors, including ALG chairman Roger Allard. The vessel has been leased back in an 8-year deal.
In August 2016, a management buy-out took over ALG’s Discover Egypt for an undisclosed sum. The buyers were a team comprised of Allard and All Leisure Holidays directors Philip Breckner and David Wiles.
Voyages of Discovery began life about 35 years ago, operating educational cruises for schoolchildren. The company was bought by ALG in 1997 and from 2002 operated the ship Discovery, which had once been owned by Princess Cruises and was used as one of the locations for the TV series The Love Boat.
Swan Hellenic celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2014. The company was taken over by P&O Cruises in 1983. Former P&O chairman Lord Sterling bought the brand in 2007, and the company was re-launched by ALG in 2008.
The 12,500-ton Minerva carries 352 passengers and claims to have one of the largest libraries at sea.
The hotel operations onboard both ships are contracted to Sea Chefs, which has 8,000 staff on 50 ocean-going and river vessels around the world.