French and saunders, Ant & Dec, Torvill and dean – all great Duos but did you know Swan Hellenic has its own cruise curator double act?
Shore Excursion Contracting Manager
Tracey has more than 20 years’ experience in the travel industry, from coach operator planning and co-ordination, management at Liverpool Airport and a couple of years on ships as a shore excursion manager. She has travelled worldwide and her now office-based role is to develop tours for Minerva and Voyager. Tracey has excellent relationships with excursion agents in all ports of call and tailors tours to suit the passenger profile. She enjoys passing on her knowledge to an enthusiastic team, talking about travel and exploring new destinations.
Senior Itinerary Planner Ocean Cruising
Clare’s career in travel began 17 years ago, working for a luxury travel agency in Lincolnshire. Her passion for the industry grew and in 2005 she joined Royal Caribbean as Purser on Enchantment of the Seas. She become assistant Front Desk Manager on Oasis of the Seas but later found herself on dry land managing port operations and product development in Hong Kong and Singapore. After three years (and too much dim sum, she says) Clare joined All Leisure, researching and finding new, exciting destinations. She said: “It’s a dream job planning for small ships that can reach more destinations than larger ships.”
Tracey Cartwright and Clare Willmer are responsible for creating cruise itineraries and shore excursions for Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery. They may have dream jobs but nothing pleases them more than positive customer feedback! Minerva’s new Summer 2017 brochure has just been released and the dynamic duo are feeling really chuffed with themselves because the ship’s discerning guests have been in touch.
Tracey: We’ve just launched the brochure and we immediately had calls complimenting us on the choice of destinations and even the layout of the brochure. As we are in the backroom of operations we do not have a great deal of direct contact with passengers so we were delighted to hear a positive response.
Clare: Finding new ports can be a challenge with the world not getting any larger, but to us, pleasing our passengers is paramount. The beauty of our small ships is that we can look for the more hidden destinations and to keep the itineraries fresh we have introduced more than 30 maiden ports this season. A new port like Tarragona has been chosen because it is close to Barcelona but rather than arriving in a port with five or six ships large ships we can sail into a quaint and more unique port where guests can walk straight into town. Likewise, for passengers who have not visited Barcelona it is any easy journey.
Tracey: Last year we went to Belle Ile en Mer, a small island off the coast of Brittany. The French love it there but the British do not know it well. Guests have to take the tender to reach the port and the visit was very well-received. When Clare starts to build the itinerary she and Tracey ‘liaise every step of the way’. With new ports of call we have a conversation and ask our team if they have been there, what’s its like and if it is suitable for our passengers. For Minerva passengers, particularly, we want to know if they can walk ashore independently or will need a shuttlebus into town. For Voyager passengers, the port has got to be sufficiently interesting with lots to do ashore.
Clare: We have a lot of knowledge within the cruise planning team, we talk about where we have been and what would be a good idea. Visiting the places gives us a real advantage. We sometimes get invitations from ports and every now and again we are fortunate to be invited to destinations where tourist boards would love our ships to call; for instance the Okinawa Islands, south of Japan and all the gorgeous ports along the St Lawrence River in Canada.
Tracey: We are also introducing a highlight port within every Winter 2016-17 itinerary – that includes overnight stays, such as the Fiestas de Navidad, where guests have two days in Barcelona to celebrate 2017 New Year. An adventure cruise for Voyager is the Culture & Colours of Vietnam, in February 2017, which calls at five coastal ports along the coast of Vietnam.
Clare: One of our new itineraries for Minerva is the Gulf of Bothnia; we’ll do the classic ports in the Baltic but go further north to Kemi, in Finland where few cruise ships call. We have about 70% repeat passengers so we have to keep the itineraries fresh. We always scrutinise passenger feedback – it is very important, both positive and otherwise. You want to create something to entice new passengers so we like to introduce new gems but also include cities like Rome so new-to-cruise can identify with us. Our passengers like to find out more about the places they are visiting but also try new activities. Many take their hiking boots so we build in walks and mountain treks.
Tracey: We place a great deal of emphasis on the quality of tours and work with shore ex agents all over the world. We do our own quality control and would never work with anyone who had no experience with cruise ships. We generally receive half a dozen tour descriptions, and as we know our passengers, we can choose what they will enjoy. We offer a selection of half-day and full-day tours to ensure a comprehensive choice.
Clare: We are also strict with our contracts. For instance, if we are in Italy, we do not necessarily use one agent. We go by individual standards and local knowledge so if a guide lives and works in Venice and knows the city inside out we would we prefer to use that local knowledge. We also look at insurance cover and do not take it any further if a tour company does not meet our exacting requirements. We always have lots of specific questions!
Tracey: Cruise is actually a small industry so if we are not sure about something or want to know about a company’s reputation we ask friends and colleagues.
Clare: We pride ourselves on intimate home-from-home cruises. Our passengers love to learn so we call on our bank of speakers who have exceptional geographic knowledge or a specialist subject such as history, art history or horticulture that’s linked to the destinations. Travel agents have a tough job knowing all of the cruise lines but ours is simple – any customer wanting classic elegance rather than rock climbing should consider Swan Hellenic!