Since launching in 2020, Panache Cruises has been riding the wave of success. Gary Peters speaks to founder and MD James Cole about how the company can continue to thrive.
Casting minds back to 2020 brings little joy for many. However, for James Cole, there was a bright ray of sunshine as, in July of that otherwise difficult and somewhat painful year, Panache Cruises began trading.
“Some people questioned starting a new cruise retail business in the middle of a pandemic when cruises weren’t sailing,” he explains. “We thought it was a good time, however, and we recruited some quality people.”
No doubt it’s been a whirlwind three years since the agency launched, but Cole says he and the team have “not looked back; everything’s been going largely according to plan”.
He continues: “You start out with a plan of what you want to do and we’re very happy with where we’re at.
“Of course, certain things work a little bit differently than intended, but we’re pleased with the place we’re in and we’re loving the partnerships that we have with luxury and ultra-luxury cruise lines.
“We have a plan to take us through to 2027 and by and large we’re on track to exceed that plan. It helps to break it down – what do I need to do or what does the team need to do today to keep us on that track?
“We ask ourselves, are we doing the right thing and how can we improve our customer service? We’re not resting on our laurels; just stick to your knitting, as I say.”
Growing Panache Cruises
At the time of speaking, Cole is preparing to move the company to a new office, such has been the rate of expansion in recent times.
In fact, earlier this year, the company announced plans to grow its team by 30 per cent, offering competitive salaries and a slew of benefits to attract and retain the best talent.
Cole says: “It is difficult to find the right people, but it isn’t insurmountable. It’s a challenge that we’ve taken on and I think over the last six months, we’ve recruited some exceptional colleagues.
“People have chosen to come work for us. It’s not necessarily just been about salary; it’s about benefits, the working environment and flexibility.”
This leads into a key focus for Cole, which is workplace wellbeing and making Panache synonymous with putting people first. “One of the things that I think has come out of the pandemic as a positive is all about flexibility and what’s important in life,” he says.
“I think I’ve always treated people well in whichever business I’ve been in, but I wanted to take Panache Cruises to the next level.
“For example, the new office is one that I want people to want to come to rather than feeling that they must. It’s not just about having some office space with a few desks thrown in, but rather about creating the right working environment.”
So, with a new office, recruitment “going well”, and an expansion in the US proving a hit already, Panache is ready to mirror the growth that Cole expects to see in the luxury and ultra-luxury sectors.
“By 2030, that sector of the market will double in size,” he predicts. “There’s absolutely no question about it. Look at every single one of the key players in the market – they are bringing new ships online, or refurbishing ships they have in their fleet.
“Does everything go according to plan? Of course it doesn’t and there are ups and downs in every market, but the general trend is for significant growth.”
Technology in cruise
Now more than ever, the issue of technology comes into play, with little doubt that developments such as artificial intelligence will form part of how cruise lines and travel agencies change.
At Panache, Cole says the agency has a “paradox”. On one side, it is “a digital marketing platform”, with a large chunk of marketing resources spent online and socially.
However, “the paradox of our businesses is that we do not sell cruises online”, explains Cole. “We could do it, but we take people offline and introduce them to their very own cruise connoisseur, who’s with them from the beginning right the way through to returning from that cruise holiday.
“We do that because customers demand it; they want high-end, personalised service, with people going the extra mile, which we call our ‘nothing is too much trouble’ service.
“When we’re not perfect, they might have an issue that they want to talk to me about. If the phone rings, somebody answers.
“Yes there is an opportunity for technology to enhance marketing and customer service, but for me there is no replacement for one-to-one customer service.”
There are few certainties in business, but with a commitment to excellence and an already well-established reputation for doing the right thing, Panache seems in good shape to continue riding the wave.