For many years, the cruise industry was booming, with passenger numbers topping 29.7 million passengers 2019. In 2020, it was forecast that more than 32 million holidaymakers would opt for a cruise holiday, but then along came COVID-19. Cruise ships were banned from docking in many ports around the globe, leaving both passengers and staff stranded onboard and an industry at a complete standstill. And while it is true to say that the cruise sector was extremely hard hit during the pandemic, like a phoenix, it has risen from the ashes, coming back stronger than ever.
Northern Ireland Travel News caught up with Peter Shanks, Managing Director UK & Ireland at the recent BIG Travel Trade Event to ask the BIG Question – “what does post-Covid recovery look like for Silversea?”
“The cruise industry has come back really strong,” said Peter. “Most cruise lines now have all of their ships back sailing and at Silversea we have a tenth of our ships going back into service this month, so we will have our full fleet sailing now.
“We’ve been sailing since early last summer, and over the last year we have slowly went back into service with different ships and different destinations around the world and so it’s great to be back.
“The reaction from guests has been terrific so when we measure how guests are scoring their cruise experience those scores have never been higher so people are delighted to be back. We are all still being very careful, so the cruise industry has worked really hard on protocols health and safety and we think we are in a very good place. This will diminish over time, but we are still being very careful very cautious.
“I have travelled on a number of our ships and its the safest place you can be, so when you travel you go through airport, aircraft, hotels but once your on the ship your in a very safe environment, everyone’s been tested, everyone just feels very safe and secure on the ship. It’s really good that the industry has come back and I would say that compared to some other sectors of the travel industry, cruise has come back remarkably well.”
Moving Mountains and Looking to the Future
“We are not dwelling on the past,” says Peter. “We are focusing on the future, and it was always our intention that Silversea and the cruise industry would come back even stronger. We’ve moved mountains to support travel agents over the last two years with a whole range of initiates be it commission protection continue to invest in marking continue to support them. Our call centres are still operative very well so we have really invested in everything we do for our travel agent partners because we always know that when we did come back we really need our travel agent partners to support us so therefore in many ways when I talk to a trance agent the relationship has never been stronger coming out of this than before we went into it which is terrific.”
Strong Relationship with the Travel Trade and Door to Door Service
“I’ve always argued that the two strongest thing a travel agent has is the ability to recommend and reassure” continued Peter. “Make sure you book an all inclusive package and make sure you book through a good travel agent. And that’s what travel agents are great at, giving advice, and we as cruise line, certainly we at Silversea, over the last two years have moved to being the most all inclusive of the luxury cruise lines. We now include flights, hotels, every single thing on the cruise including the excursions and we have also now added what we call our door to door service which is nice limousines to pick people up at home. We take care of everything.”
The Onus is on Us
“One of the big challenges at the moment, as every one knows, is airlines, with constant changes. That will Goa way over time but we are taking that responsibly on on behalf of the guest and travel agent so we wanted to be fully inclusive. We will take care of everything. There are agents who find the bonding quite expensive and therefore we take that on ourselves. It’s really working. If you’re a travel agent and you start to build your own holiday then you have to become effectively the tour operator, if you pull together the flight, the hotel, a cruise and build the whole package then you’re responsible, you have to take the bonding through either ABTA or the CAA to cover, whereas if your a travel agent and you just retail our full package the onus is on us, so that’s made a real difference which we are pleased about.
Space is Important – We Give You More
“Space has always been a premium so if you think about people being a little bit nervous about having too many people around them, wanting a bit more space around themselves, then a ultra luxury cruise experience the suites are about, a standard suite on a Silverseas ship is about 150% of what you would find on a mainstream cruise line and we have much large suites as well so there more space everywhere you go on the ship, be it in your suite, be it in the restaurant or around the pool, space has become really important.”
Everything is Included
“Guests really now like the fact that everything is included so they don’t have to worry about anything at all. People are spending more so we are finding they are doing two things, they are trading up so we have a lot of guest who might normally have taken a veranda suite who are now looking to trade up to a silver suite to treat themselves, because they haven’t been anywhere for a couple of years and they are great travellers and there’s great pent up demand.
“We are also seeing a really big increase in what we call our combination sails where people are taking two. Back to back. So we don’t really do what’s called track itineraries, where in the med you might do sailing from Barcelona to Rome, then Rome to Barcelona every week. All our itineraries are different,” says Peter. “It doesn’t repeat. So therefore we are seeing an awful lot of people who are putting together two or even three or even more cruises on the same ship, and its great value because you don’t have the airfare built into each of them as you only have the flights at the beginning and the end, so we offer really nice incentives for people to book our combinations cruises. I think around about 15% of our business at the moment is people buying a combination cruise, buying more than one cruise, which again is great for our travel agent partners.
More Availability and the Trends of Late Booking
“Normally in the world of ultra luxury cruising, certainly in Silversea, if you go back to a good year in 2018 or 2019, we would be very very well sold at this time of year for the summer, and for the rest of this year. Given we are all now coming back into service we have more availability than we would normally have had in any other year. Normally if someone was to come in and say I’m thinking of going away on a Silversea cruise in three weeks time it would either not be available or if it was it would be very expensive, but now we do have availability, so we have good opportunities for people who are looking to get away and who are looking for that luxury experience, to the med, to Europe or even further afield like the arctic or Alaska, there’s still the opportunity to go this summer or this fall.”
Where Do I Find An Ultra Luxury Cruise Customer?
“Travel agents often ask me “where do I find an ultra luxury cruise customer” and I always say “you already have them, they just don’t know yet”. And if you actually look right now, if you’re looking for a five star hotel in Majorca, in Ibiza, in Italy, the prices are phenomenally high. You might be paying €400, €500 or €600 per night bed and breakfast, and therefore the value of the position of an ultra luxury cruise, with all that’s included ,is remarkable. Many of those land-based five star hotels are getting very full up so there is the opportunity to switch people from that luxury experience to this luxury experience and we are seeing the happen quite nicely.”
How has the Cruise Industry Come Through Covid so Strongly?
“Firstly we have worked really hard with government. Some aspects of the travel industry have been combative with government, whereas the cruise industry through CLIA, have been very co-operative with government and we’ve worked hand-in-hand with the Transport Department to really make sure that they understand our challenges and our opportunities in cruising. Robert Courts who is the Minister for Aviation and Maritime, has praised CLIA publicly for the way that we went about it. It wasn’t easy, we worked with the Department of Transport and the Foreign Office and it was really hard work but we’ve built a brilliant relationship now with them that we will continue now going forward so it started in a poor place because cruise was at the forefront of the news in Asia while this happened, began to happen and we’ve ended up in a better place than we were before we started with the key government departments really understanding how cruising works and being hugely impressed with how cruising works and therefore every supportive. We haven’t had things happen as quick as we may have liked, if you remember there was a cruise ban in place for quite a long time, but we were patient, and we overcame that, and now we want to extend that relationship with the government further into the environment and other general transport opportunities. We have built that really strong relationship through CLIA.
“Andy Harmers who heads up CLIA in the UK was awarded an OBE in the Queens Honours list. That’s a sign of how well the cruise industry got on. That shows the relationship we have built, so I think we have come back stronger than ever and now we are moving back onto the agenda of innovation, new ships, selling the story, selling the excitement, while always underlining the approach to health and safety.”
Vaccinations, Testing and Mask Wearing
“It’s a constantly changing thing, so we are doing it very carefully and we are doing it in cooperation with each country as each country has a slightly different approach. We have got ourselves into a very good place now where, we still do ask for people to do a test before they come on the ship, we still require customers to be vaccinated before they come on the ship but we no longer have masks on the ship, we no loner have any social distancing on the ship. We are getting back to normal, but we will always have in the back of our minds the protocols ready to go anywhere in the world should we need to.”
The World Reopens
“Alaska has just opened up which is good, but we have yet to see Asia open up,” says Peter. “As we move into the winter we will see, I think, a strong Australia, which is open up at last. We will see a lot of people returning to Australia cruising with us. The Caribbean will be very strong, but Asia is not ready yet, so we are still waiting to see. We can see that in our bookings because if you move into 2023 you can see really strong bookings for destinations further afield like Asia, particularly into winter 2023 24, where people are saying I want to go but I’m going to wait until 2023 24 before Asia’s really back and ready to accept people.
“Our sales for 2023 and early 2024 are really strong and that’s the pent up demand. We’ve come out earlier than ever before with our programmes because we can see that pent up demand for far out bookings. So my advice for agents is see if you can secure on 2023 or early 2024 sailings so holidaymakers have something to look forward to, and then see how we go through this summer, see if you can convince them to try a med or a Northern Europe or perhaps a Caribbean in the winter as another cruise. Because cruisers love something to look forward to, they want to get that one in the diary and then they want to look ahead. The other thing we are starting to see is on the expedition side of our business is an increase I demand on the bucket list destinations.”
Pent Up Demand for Bucket List Destinations
“I’ve just come back from the Galapagos islands. I’ve been promoting expeditions for the last four years at Silverseas and this was my first proper expedition to the Galapagos and it was incredible. My top two busked list trips would be Antartica and Galapagos and then you come down through the arctic and just other parts of the world such as Kimberly in Australia. People have had their bucket list and they haven’t been able to tick anything off. Travel agents should never be shy about recommending something like Galapagos. Of course its expensive, but its reassuringly expensive. In our experience when we talk to guests who are looking to book Galapagos, its not about price, its about when shall I go, can’t wait to go, what’s the best time to go. Its reassuringly expensive bucket list opportunity which is brilliant for travel agents.
“We have definitely seen the pent up demand for everything and an incremental pent up demand for them bucket list destinations.”
You’re Not Going to Lose Weight on a Cruise
“For Silversea, believe it or not, we’ve launched three new ships in the last 12 months with the Moon, the Origin and the Dawn and they’ve gone really well, particularly the introduction of our sea and land taste, our S.A.L.T experience on the Moon and Dawn. Wherever the ship is in the world we go on excursions to understand local food, produce, farming, we take them to a local experience, be it with chefs or with lovely local restaurants. On the ship we have our S.A.L.T lab and the chefs teach people how to cook and then our S.A.L.T kitchen, wherever he ship is in the world they can enjoy the locals produce from hat part of the world. It’s really about getting to the heart of the destination, so the S.A.L.T experience on Moon and Dawn has been terrific and we have just introduced the new spa on Silver Dawn called OTIUM. Again, a new take on spa. We are saying, it’s okay to indulge yourself. We’re the first cruise line to admit you’re not going to lose weight on a cruise.
The Game Changer – An Industry First
“The most exciting thing is getting ready for Silver Nova, our new ship in 2023 because that’s our game changer.” Says Peter. “So that ship is the first time you’ve seen Royal Caribbean group and Silversea come together. With their innovation on ship building and our experience on luxury, we are building a fantastic ship.
“I think the whole design of the ship is much more open with a lot more glass than other ships and also if your take the pool deck, the pool is not a boring pool in the middle of the pool deck surrounded by infrastructure, its to one side with open views all the way along the deck, so you actually get an infinity view. Then we are taking a huge step in the environment with the design of Silver Nova and she will have battery power which means that when she’s in port, she doesn’t have any emissions whatsoever ever at all, so she runs on batteries for the full day in port, so that’s a first.
“We have two fuels, the normal fuel and we have LNG. We have hydrogen fuels cells that then power up the batteries and then once the ship is in port she runs on batteries all day, so no emissions at all. That’s an industry first for a ship of that size. Its really important to put the environment up front because people, rightly, are starting to care about it more and more so we are making big moves in that area. We are calling Silver Nova our game changer and we have Silver Nova in 2023 and then her sister-ship will come out in 2024.”
Looking for More Travel Agents to Joint the Party
“It’s just fun to be back sailing and it’s also been brilliant to have the royal Caribbean group backing for Silversea. We’ve fully refurbished our fleet, we’ve massively enhanced the onboard experience, we’ve delivered three ships in a year and two more to come. Its just exciting and that’s brilliant for our travel agent partners. Our mission is to find more travel agents, so we are on the look out for more travel agents to come and join the opportunity and we have a good sales team and all the tools travel agents could need. But we want them to put their hands up and come and talk to us because we want them to come and join this exciting growth, not just of Silversea but of the ultra luxury and expedition sector. Its really going very well and there’s an opportunity for more travel agents to join that party,” added Peter.