Voyages to Antiquity ticks all the right boxes for so many people, they just don’t know it… yet, says new managing director Jos Dewing.
By Jane Archer
Cultural cruise line Voyages to Antiquity has been relaunched to the trade as a small ship experience as part of a strategy to raise its profile.
In the event, Dewing was able to call on past experience at specialist agency The Cruise Line, as the UK launch general sales agent for Oceania Cruises and as a director for All Leisure Group to show himself ready to take the helm after just six months.
So it’s been all change at the top of Voyages to Antiquity. Yellow remains an active director, but handed over the reins to Dewing early, giving him a free hand to introduce new strategies to raise awareness of the company among both consumers and agents.
It’s a two-pronged approach. On the one hand he has been pulling on past experience as owner of web development company Cruisetech to develop Voyages to Antiquity’s first agents’ training programme, on the other he believes it important to change the cruise line’s message.
Dewing said: “The name Voyages to Antiquity is a barrier as both agents and consumers they think it must be high-brow and therefore with limited appeal. But while a lot of our shore excursions do visit sites linked to ancient civilisations, it’s not just about that.
Time for change
“Things have changed, evolved, since the cruise line started and our marketing needs to focus less on the antiquity and more on the good-value small ship experience.
“It’s the whole mix that makes this such a good product – the guest speakers, the shore excursions team, the fact there is no selling no board so passengers can relax and enjoy their cruise. And yes of course, the destinations.”
For those unfamiliar with the company, Voyages to Antiquity launched five years ago with one ship, the 378-passenger Aegean Odyssey. Initially it operated only in the spring, summer and autumn, and only in the Eastern Mediterranean, which is choc-full of sites that date back to the ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine civilisations.
Shore excursions were included in the price (and still are) because sightseeing is an important part of the cruise, and flights, transfers, gratuities, drinks with dinner and pre and post-cruise hotel stays were also integrated into the fare, making it one of the most inclusive and good-value cruise lines around.
Sales took off and it soon developed into a year-round product, with cruises in Asia in winter. This November, Aegean Odyssey is sailing a short season of safari-based voyages in South Africa before heading east to Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
The product is also broadening in the Mediterranean, with cruises to France and Spain new this summer and a debut visit to the UK in June 2016. A two-week cruise from Seville takes Aegean Odyssey to Falmouth, Dartmouth and Dover, with a 15-day voyage taking the ship from Dover to Lisbon.
Dewing said: “The UK cruises are a great opportunity for us to showcase the ship. The UK is our biggest market, about 10% higher than Australia and the US, but we should be doing more. We need to grow here and that will come through agents.”
Which is where the new training programme comes in. Launching to coincide with Cruise Week from September 19-27, it has been built from scratch and uses video to educate agents about the product and how to sell it. There is also a course for agents to take; if they pass they will be issued with a certificate acknowledging their expertise.
Dewing said: “The training is a significant investment for us but we want to show agents what Voyages to Antiquity is about and what makes our cruises different. It is more engaging than traditional training and we will be continually updating content so there is a reason to keep coming back.”
He admitted Voyages to Antiquity is difficult for agents to understand but said it is important for them to learn because the product works on so many levels. “It’s a perfect fit for people who have cruised before and are looking for a more refined product but also for customers used to taking land tours or river cruising.”
He said it is also ideal for single travellers because Aegean Odyssey attracts people with common interests, creating a friendly atmosphere on board. Importantly, the ship has 26 single cabins and the company doesn’t charge a huge supplement for solo travellers. Some cruises even have low or no supplements.
Dewing said cruise specialists including Reader Offers, Iglu and Planet Cruise are now selling Voyages to Antiquity. Trailfinders is also on board, while Great Rail Journeys has taken space on three cruises next summer that it will be selling as rail-sail holidays for clients who don’t want to fly.
Also, next May, the Brandenburg Choral Festival of London will be holding the final event of its spring series on Aegean Odyssey while cruising from Piraeus to Venice. There’ll be singing workshops each day and a final concert in Ravenna, Italy.
Dewing said: “Aegean Odyssey works well for groups. They can bring their own lecturers and we can organise separate shore excursions. Agents should be thinking about groups interested in history, wildlife, gardening, in fact a whole range of special-interest subjects.”
A partnerships manager is being appointed this month to develop this side of the business, and Voyages to Antiquity is also taking on two more people in marketing and an extra reservation-cum-passenger services manager.
Dewing promised: “There will be more appointments to come. I want to get the product out there and make sure everyone knows Voyages to Antiquity.”