CMV looks to the future
Just off Phuket British nationals were transferred by tender from Vasco da Gama to Columbus and Australian passengers vice versa (see photograph). The former, without passengers, is now en route back from Fremantle, due to arrive in Tilbury on April 30.
Where possible non-UK passengers (and non-German in the case of Astor homeported in Bremerhaven) have been disembarked as the ships came home, for example in Malta and Gibraltar. Where not possible, Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) will be assisting passengers, together with the relevant authorities, to repatriate them.
All six ships are being laid-up in the Cruise Europe (CE) member ports of Tilbury (four), Bristol (one) and Bremerhaven (one).
When CE spoke to marketing director Mike Hall, CMV had suspended operations to May 24 2020. He told CE: “This accounts for 21 cruises and approximately 17,000 passengers. However all these passengers have been offered a 125% cruise credit voucher for a future cruise to be taken up until December 31 2022.”
When asked about CMV’s ability to weather both the coronavirus and the resulting financial storm, Hall says: “As a medium-sized cruiseline our income exposures are more manageable and we took immediate action to substantially reduce costs with a strong focus on income retention with attractive consumer incentives. We have fortunately had no COVID-19 cases on board any of our ships, so we believe our brand, retirement market positioning which is less prone to economic shocks, and our small to medium sized vessels, make us better placed to combat the challenges ahead.”
In addition: “Given the dramatic fall in oil prices, with global consumption down 25% and having not yet hedged for 2021, this provides us with the opportunity to take advantage of some significant bunker savings to help mitigate any income deficits.”
When it comes to Hall’s area of expertise, he says: “My responsibility is that we have to knock down on advertising and marketing activity but fortunately we can do a great deal with not so much money. We are putting all our efforts into email and social media. People who are stuck indoors that is what they are looking at. There is pent-up desperation of wanting to go [on a cruise] and they are just waiting for the go-ahead.”
Hall believes CMV is better placed than some in terms of returning to business but realises that, like the UK government, it must look at this in bite-size chunks. “It is another six weeks until May 24 when we will have a much, much clearer idea of where we are heading. Because of our demographic the planning, looking forward to and anticipation of a cruise is as important as the cruise. It is different for young people who are more spontaneous.”
Other advantages include being UK-market based with no flights involved. Hall comments: “I think we would be a lot more worried if a mainstay of our programme was ex-Barcelona and ex-Venice and we were depending on a Mediterranean customer base. It would be a very different story. With the Brits we know where we are.”
In terms of itineraries, the plan is to keep them as they are unless some ports are still closed in which case amendments will be necessary. “We do visit a lot of Cruise Europe ports [ie northern European] which is the mainstay of our cruise programme. It is potentially more likely that these ports will open back up again over and above some others.”
Whilst there is little or no appetite for booking summer cruises, for the winter and summer 2021 Hall says: “We are still seeing interest week on week and that is very encouraging. We launched our summer 21 programme on February 20, before the pandemic, but certainly after reported coronavirus cases in the UK. However, we have sold 30% of our summer cruise programme for the new Amy Johnson with three voyages well over 60% sold.” Amy Johnson is due to join the fleet on March 2 and Ida Pfeiffer on May 2 next year.
CMV works closely with reader offers which are running three to four advertisements in the UK nationals every weekend. Hall comments: “They would not be doing that if they were not getting a return. There is appetite for a new ship, there is no question about that. People who had cruises suspended are taking the credit for next year. Most of them are time-rich. We have good volumes of repeat passengers who are happy to postpone. It doesn’t look like we will be exposed to a lot of refunding.”
He continues: “We are confident that, when restrictions are lifted and the virus recedes, market confidence will return and there will be a surge of renewed interest accelerating when vaccines become available. As a result of this situation, consumers will re-evaluate their lives putting travel back at the very top of their wish lists.”
Speaking about cruiselines generally, he comments: “The cruise industry is resilient with long established brands and the support of stakeholders who will work to ensure success.”
Turning to the important role of CE members, he says: “The future of Cruise Europe depends 100% on their partnership with cruiselines. Members will be anxious to re-open their ports and assist cruiselines in every way possible to re-commence operations. There will also be pressure from the tourist offices to bring tourism back to Europe.”