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Celestyal Cruises CCO Leslie Peden: ‘New ships and trade plans key to the future’

Leslie Peden, Celestyal Cruises

Celestyal Cruises is actively looking to add to its two-ship fleet, the line’s chief commercial officer Leslie Peden has confirmed.

The cruise line has had a busy few months. This month (March), it appointed former Carnival UK CEO David Noyes as non-executive chairman, and in February unveiled a new travel agent booking platform.

In November 2021, it agreed a deal with Searchlight Capital Partners, a global private investment firm, for an injection of money to “amplify its brand globally”.

Those plans are beginning to take shape, as Leslie Peden explains, with new ships potentially on the horizon and plans to recruit another business development manager in the UK.

What are your plans to expand the fleet?

The immediate priority will be the renewal of the existing fleet, and then we will consider opportunities to add to the fleet beyond that.

It won’t be new builds, but it’ll be newer tonnage, with a higher mix of balcony and premium suite accommodation. At present, our existing fleet does not have enough of the higher stateroom categories to satisfy demand.

They [the new ships] will be a very similar mid-size vessels [to the existing fleet], probably in the 1,500-passenger range. This will support our plans to offer year-round cruising and continue to build upon the uniqueness of our itineraries visiting the smaller undiscovered destinations other lines are unable to access.

We started on the strategy of fleet renewal in 2019, so now it’s about getting back to that. There are a number of vessels out there that weren’t necessarily available back when the pandemic first hit.

We will do our due diligence and go with the options that makes the most sense and aligned with our differentiated proposition.

How is your new trade platform progressing?

We’re about a month and a half into the migration and touch wood, it’s going smoothly. Phase one was really about migrating over, being able to make sure we can take bookings and take payments.

Phase two is about allowing agents to use it to completely manage all elements of their guests’ bookings. There’s a lot more functionality than we were offering before which will allow for pre and post packages, pre-selling of shore excursions for which agents earn their full standard commission, available 24/7, 365 days a year, placing our agency partners firmly in control. We’ve seen agents keen to adopt it [the new system].

It has given them more confidence to sell Celestyal Cruises because they are familiar with the Seaware platform. We’re also planning to recommence agent fam trips from this May, to enable them to experience the ships and what we offer.

Celestyal Cruises ocean cruise fleet
Celestyal Cruises currently has two ships in the fleet, Celestyal Crystal and Celestyal Olympia

How is the UK market performing for you?

We really only established a base of operations in the UK in early 2018. We were growing very nicely right up to the start of the pandemic.

However, we’ve continued to add resource in the UK and we are advertising for a third person, a new business development manager for the north of England and Scotland, who we hope to have in place as soon as possible.

The reason for this is, there are plenty of growing flight options from this region into both Athens and new for 2022 Thessaloniki, while being affordable.

In terms of source markets, the UK is approaching 10 per cent. There is an opportunity to tap into the city break market, which is great for agents. Our three and four-night Iconic itineraries are ideal for this.

We’ve only scratched the surface of the potential in the UK market. Overall, we have had a solid period of growth from the UK.

Celestyal Cruises introduced a new strategy in 2020 to target a younger demographic – what’s been the result of that?

What we’ve been doing following the investment from Searchlight is to amplify the brand. We’ve really got the key differentiators and we want to elevate those.

One of the areas we did identify was the millennial market – it’s a real opportunity for us, so there will be more content that talks to that millennial audience.

Our audience is looking for immersive experiences – they are experiential travellers. A key point for our agency partners is that 95 per cent of our business is new-to-cruise clients. We are introducing people to cruising.

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