Cruise and Maritime Voyages’ head of marketing, Mike Hall, sits down with Josh Stephenson to discuss sales throughout the year, reaction to the Columbus and the possibility of additional ships in the future.

How has 2018 been for you so far?

It has been very successful for us. We released our programme quite early to the market and we had a strong early booking campaign. It is the first full year of sales for Columbus, as she joined the fleet in the previous year – she has become an instant hit.

We have been able to extend our regional cruising options and move Magellan into more regional ports, which has been an exciting development. Previously, we would have Marco Polo or Astoria filling those ports, but now we can have Magellan offer more capacity.

We currently have sold approximately 75 per cent of our 2019 cruise programme and we estimate that we will be close to 80 per cent sold by the end of the year.

Mike Hall, cruise, CMV,
Mike Hall

How has the trade taken to Columbus?

The trade have been really fantastic. When we introduced Magellan to the fleet, that was a game-changer for CMV. We were no longer seen as this small cruise line with a couple of ships.

Now we have a mid-sized ship and can expand to more ports. With Columbus we’ve been able to take that one step further. So, I think we’ve broadened our relationship with the trade and we’re dealing with more trade partners than ever before. I think we are seen as the choice of no-fly, regional cruising and we’re getting that message across to agents.

Agents broadly account for 75-80 per cent of our business so they are very, very important to us.

What about new ways of engaging with agents?

We’re in the final stage of putting together a training programme that should be ready and released at the turn of the New Year. It’s pitched at people who may not know too much about CMV – that’s where we’ll start – and we’re aiming to grow that at higher levels.

We have had for a couple of years now – and not many agents know that we have it – but we do have a TV channel (cruiseandmaritime.tv). It is there for the consumer, but for the agent, it is a very valuable sales tool. I used to be a travel agent, so I know there’s a plethora of – not only cruise lines – but all areas of travel that you need to know a little bit about.

If you go onto the site, you’ll find videos for each member of the fleet, there’s testimonials with customers and there are also videos on the main destinations that we sail to. So, if I had a customer and they wanted to sail on Columbus and asked what it’s like, well here you go, a couple of minutes and it will help them tremendously to secure a sale.

Where does CMV stand among other British cruise lines?

The regional aspect of our cruise programme is where we stand – in my opinion – head and shoulders above our competition. As far as the product is concerned, this is aimed at a British audience.

The way the cruise is structured, the entertainment, the food that we serve, all of it is aimed at a British palate, whereas a lot of our competitors are trying to please an international market. One of the great things about a CMV cruise is 90 per cent of passengers will get on in Tilbury and disembark in Tilbury. There’s a beginning, middle and end of the cruise – it’s a story.

Unashamedly, our market is semi-retired/retired, with an average age of 65, and we’re very pleased to be in that arena. It’s a growth market – there’s more people retiring every year and this is a golden time because people who are now in their 60s and 70s are baby boomers. Most are retiring on full pensions, they’ve got a lot of disposable income and they’re not so heavily influenced by financial issues around them.

Is there more to come from CMV in terms of themed cruises?

We’ve announced some for 2019 and we will announce more. There are cruises where we think to ourselves, ‘we need to perhaps add something that will make that cruise more attractive to people’.

Last month I was on Magellan and we had a Carry On themed cruise as it was the 60th anniversary of the films. It was hugely successful. It’s an interesting one and the most successful tend to be music or food.

What plans do you have for more ships? Could it be a new build?

We have a new ship joining in April, Vasco da Gama, which is principally for the German and Australian markets. We have a ship called the Astor, which has operated in Germany for summer and then transfered to Australia for their summer. We are under-capacity in Germany and we’ve been looking to increase that – so Vasco da Gama will help with that and allows Astor to operate year-round for Germany.

We will sell the voyages between Europe and Australia which is a strong market, particularly ex-UK. That’s arriving in April and we’re still looking at future development.

But any future ships will be second or third generation. We’re not looking for a new-build as it’s too long-term. If we decided to do it, you’re looking years down the line. The shipyards are chock-a-block. Our demographic still like these smaller, mid-sized ships and so it makes perfect sense to continue on that path.