After 25 years with Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines, new head of sales Mike Evans has seen a lot of changes. But the company’s fundamentals remain the same.
If you’re ever on Fred. Olsen’s cruise ship Braemar and you’re looking for the company’s new head of sales, Mike Evans, you’ll find him on the open top deck, enjoying the views.
He’s fond of all four ships in the fleet but has a soft-spot for the 900-capacity Braemar, which spends much of the winter fly-cruising in the Caribbean, while sailing out of the UK the rest of the year.
“Braemar’s very special,” he says. “Size-wise it’s a great ship and can get into some of the smaller Caribbean islands, which is what people love.
“The ship has got a fantastic top deck. It’s an open area with so much room. When the weather is good, there is nothing better than sitting up there and watching the world go by.”
While newer, flashier, bigger and bolder cruise ships often grab the headlines, Fred. Olsen’s ships attract a loyal following, with more than 60% repeat passengers.
“A lot of people look at price and what the ships have got in terms of amenities. That’s fine, but what they don’t look at is what happens when these big ships arrive in port,” says Mike.
“In the Mediterranean, there are only six or seven ports of call that these bigger ships can actually dock in. Take Barcelona, for example. The large ships have to be moored way outside and passengers have to board a coach to get to the cruise terminal.
“With our ships, you step off and within a couple of minutes you’re striding down The Ramblas. On a Baltic cruise, we’re one of only two ships that can dock in the heart of St Petersburg. The others that call there are docked much further downriver.”
In the 25 years since Mike joined Fred. Olsen the cruise industry has changed enormously.
“When I joined this company back in 1992 we had one little ship that carried 400 people. We could sell it out in three months.
“We never had to discount and people just loved it and kept going back to it.
“Back in 1992 and 93, there were probably only about 300,000 to 400,000 people in the UK that actually travelled on cruises. Now it’s about two million.
“But, with so many different holiday options available now, the new generation of cruisers is not sold on it in the way that they want to do a cruise every year. They may go off and do different holidays, then come back.
“So while our repeat factor is very high – more than 60% – that’s over a two-to-three-year period. Clients may do something different for their next holiday and then come back and think: ‘Now it is time to do another Fred holiday’.”
So, for agents who don’t sell cruise very often, what sort of person would travel on a Fred. Olsen ship?
““Most people on board are over 50, and the age of the average Fred. Olsen guest is 67. Where we score is that people come on board our ships expecting a more sedate lifestyle. It’s a country-house feel. They like the fact that, once on board, the staff get to know their name within a day or so. They know exactly who they are, where they’re from and what their favourite drink is. Those core values haven’t changed in the 25 years I’ve been with the company.
“And for 70% of people that travel with us destination is the first thing they look for.”
The best place he’s visited is Machu Picchu. And he’d like to go to Antarctica, although it’s not currently on the Fred. Olsen itinerary.
Recently added to Fred. Olsen’s extensive programme is a dedicated fly-cruise brochure, with cruise-plus stays in destinations such as Madagascar, Seychelles and Mauritius.
He’s pleased with how it’s selling. “We soft-launched the first two to our regular cruisers and they’ve sold out. The others are selling well and it’s looking good.”
Well known in the industry, Mike has spent 40 years in travel. He grew up in Folkestone, Kent, left school at 17, and then joined Saga Holidays where his best friend’s dad was general manager. His first job was sorting the post. From there, he worked in various sectors, including aviation, retail, tourist board and tour ops before being persuaded to join Fred. Olsen by former marketing director Nigel Lingard.
“Nigel sold the company and the business to me and he was right. Of all the companies that I have worked for, this is the nicest.”
He officially started as head of sales at the end of April, promoted from his previous role as sales manager – independent retail, although previous sales roles have included regional sales manager for the north of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
He now has responsibility for managing Fred. Olsen’s UK sales teams, as well as further developing relations with the travel trade.
“We’re looking to engage with the trade even more than we have done in the past and I’m looking forward to increasing our commitment to the retail travel trade.”