Now we are four… And with a river arm as well. Cruise & Maritime Voyages had already shown there was a gap in the market for its British-style lower premium product – and then along came Magellan.
By Jane Archer
Cruise & Maritime Voyages is such a successful fixture in the UK cruise industry it’s a surprise to be reminded that the company, which targets retired British holidaymakers, has only been around since 2010.
Back then it was chartering two ships – Marco Polo, which was based year-round in Tilbury, and Ocean Countess, which sailed a summer season of cruises from regional ports around the UK.
Fast forward five years and CMV not only owns three ships and charters a fourth, but it has also moved into river cruising through the acquisition of German operator Transocean, and opened offices in the US, Australia and Germany.
It is meteoric growth by anyone’s standards, all the more remarkable given the UK was still going through a major financial crisis when CMV first went on now sale, and due, no doubt, to offering the right product (traditional British cruising) at the right price (the average for nine nights is a very affordable £1,000 per person) at the right time. But commercial director Chris Coates, a cruise industry veteran who has clocked up 32 years’ experience in various chartering, sales and broking roles, also picked out two key moments he believes have played a vital role in the company’s success. One was in 2011, when Greek company Global Maritime Group bought a 50% stake in CMV and moved it from chartering ships to owning them.
The other was in March, when the 1,250-passenger Magellan joined the fleet. She wasn’t a new ship – she celebrated her 30th birthday in July, when by an incredible co-incidence was in Aalborg, Denmark, where she was built (CMV organised for 200 of the former shipyard workers to come on board for lunch) – but as a former Carnival Cruise Line vessel, she has raised the bar for CMV.
“Magellan is a game-changer for us. She is bringing a lot of business from new customers who want to British-style cruise on a larger ship but don’t like the big vessels sailing from the UK. The ship is 95% sold for this year and passengers who have sailed on her are already booking again for 2016.
“She is fresh, spacious and has a relaxed feel, but with the cruise traditions of fixed dining and formal nights. Magellan is attracting slightly younger passengers [in CMV speak, that means people aged 60 instead of 65]. We find the ‘emerging greys’ like tradition, but want different music in the shows – more 1960s than Vera Lynn.”
Not everyone is a fan. Coates said some past passengers find Magellan too big, but that’s no problem as CMV still has the much-loved 800-passenger Marco Polo, which this year is celebrating her 50th anniversary. “We will continue to operate Marco Polo as long as she keeps running and there is strong demand for her,” said Coates.
“And there really is huge demand. People like her traditional charm, the fact she is homely and a real ship. We put on one 50th anniversary sailing this year and had to add another as it was so popular.”
Now usurped as CMV’s flagship, next year Marco Polo will instead sail the company’s regional cruise programme, replacing the 550-passenger Azores, which the company charters and is being subchartered to Paris-based Rivages du Monde from May 2016.
Coates said: “We launched our 2016 programme at the end of May and are on course to sell 30% of our total capacity by the end of July, so we do need more space but Azores (which is being renamed Astoria at the end of this summer) is small and smaller ships are expensive to operate. We are in growth mode, but we need the right capacity to satisfy demand.”
CMV’s fourth ship, the 600-passenger Astor, offers liner voyages between Britain, Australia, New Zealand and South America in winter, but spends summer sailing for Transocean’s German-speaking customers. Marco Polo might have been demoted from flagship status, but Coates stressed that regional departures are as important to CMV as its traditional small-ship style and keen prices.
“Our passengers can drive to the port, where we usually have the terminal to ourselves so embarkation is easy. Compare that to an airport or having to get to Southampton. It is a huge selling point and an area we want to develop, along with more themed cruises.”
For 2016, Marco Polo will be visiting eight UK ports (Tilbury, Hull, Newcastle, Bristol Avonmouth, Leith, Liverpool and Greenock) and also hosting a Dad’s Army legends themed cruise, with stars from the classic TV show and a new feature film that hits the box office on February 8.
The six-night fjords voyage departs Tilbury on April 4 2016. Ever since its launch, CMV has supported the trade, paying a generous 12.5% base commission and referring bookings back to the agent who introduced a client if that customer subsequently books direct. The payback is that 80% of sales are through the trade.
Coates said: “We have never reduced commission or tried to tell agents how they should manage their margins. We get as many agents as possible on board to see the ships and have a big trade sales team for the size of the company.”
Lisa Jacobs, head of trade sales, is responsible for eight people. Although the commission is paid on competitive prices, with buy-one-get-onefree offers at launch and discounts through the year, an agent who gets to know the product and drives volume sales can make a healthy income.
Coates said: “We aim to reward early booking and it works. It’s a competitive market and you have to be switched on to deliver the right prices, but our target is to have 70% of our 70,000-passenger capacity sold for 2016 by the end of this year. Based on current sales, I am confident it can be achieved.”