The Voice of the Cruise Industry
MENU menu

In conversation with: Mark Durden-Smith

Mark Durden-Smith

Behind the glitz and glamour of Carnival’s UK Cruise Awards is host Mark Durden-Smith, who talks exclusively to us about the importance of travel agents and his challenge to go on a cruise.

With his tux buttoned, his bow-tie hanging loose and a presenter’s smile in place, the host of the UK Cruise Awards, Mark Durden-Smith is an all-encompassing presence as he walks into Camden’s Roundhouse café.

“There’s a hint of bananas about this whole thing,” he explains when asked if he’s ready for the upcoming night. “It’s Carnival Corporation, though, so it’s going to be a big party. And you have to throw in a bit of mayhem, that’s key at all times.”

This year marked the sixth UK Cruise Awards, aimed at celebrating travel agents working with six of the group’s brands; Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America Line, Princess Cruises, Seabourn, Cunard, and P&O Cruises.

He admits that he landed the role after a conversation between Seabourn’s Lynn Narraway and his mother, travel icon, Judith Chalmers.

“They said we want to thank all the travel agents for the amazing work they do, and James Corden is out of our budget. So here I am six years later.”

Fortunately for him – or unfortunately for the guests, in his opinion – Durden-Smith has had the pleasure of hosting to the present day. For the last two years, he’s been trying to get Phillip Schofield to take over, with no joy as of yet. He’ll try again for next year, he promises.

Carnival Cruise Awards 2020 - Mark Durden-Smith

So, as someone who has seen some of the best the industry has to offer, why does he consider the night so important?

“It’s a night of whopping celebration, it’s been an amazing year of corporate lovemaking between travel agents and Carnival UK and I think it’s a nice way to pat everybody on the back. I think people appreciate it.

“I suppose you could go around and visit every agent with a nice little fun bus and go ‘here’s your award’ but it’s nice to have a party, and they’re quite good at entertaining here, it’s an amazing party.

“You know, you’ve worked your guts out for a year trying to fill these amazing ships with people who want to go on holiday. It’s a nice night, there are no expenses and it’s all on the company.”

The genius of the awards, he says, is that they come before the food, there’s only eight and they’re over with by 8.45pm, as long as he doesn’t “bang on too long”, he adds.

A big change

 As an outsider looking in, Durden-Smith emphasises the change he’s seen within the industry during his tenure as host, from the new ships to a new focus on sustainability.

“I felt like everyone last year had a ship coming online, and all of them phenomenal. I remember they were talking about the roller coaster on Carnival’s Mardi Gras and I was a bit sceptical, thinking about that on a ship at sea, but I suppose that’s an example of the wealth of experiences you can have on these ships.

“And the level of entertainment, it’s always been amazing, but wow, Gary Barlow [who recently became a P&O Cruises ambassador]. I have to say it to myself again, Gary Barlow is the musical director on P&O Cruises – that’s amazing.

“This drive on sustainability, too. There’s a lot of people building cleaner ships and it’s one of the biggest changes that has to happen, and I think it’s being fully embraced by everyone in the industry.”  

As the host of awards, it’s surprising that he’s never actually been on board, or a ship that leaves the port at least. He asks if an overnight stay on P&O Cruises’ Britannia counts – it doesn’t.

Mark Durden-Smith: interview, Cruise Awards
Durden-Smith with CTN reporter Melissa Moody

Time to cruise

So, as a first-hand witness of what the industry has to offer, why has he never been on a cruise?

“I don’t know. It’s definitely something I’m thinking I should have done by now, because I’ve heard so many stories being involved with these awards. It would probably be the best holiday my children have ever been on.

“I am a convert in waiting.”

Along with a lot of other cruisers, Alaska has one of the biggest appeals for Durden-Smith, and with an adventurous family, an expedition cruise would be top of his list. Of course, he would book through a travel agent.

“You could google it but there’s no need with a travel agent. They have such a breadth of knowledge, and I think in cruise, in particular, there are so many different options and having a travel agent to help make a big difference.

“And if I didn’t book with a travel agent, I couldn’t show my face around here again.”

Somehow, a challenge is then set. By the UK Cruise Awards 2021, Mark Durden-Smith has to have been on, or at least booked, a cruise.

Over to you, Durden-Smith.

Sign In

Lost your password?