Happy New Year and welcome to my January 2024 update!

I hope you all had a great Christmas, I certainly had a lovely time with my family and friends. The travel industry never really stops and so I found myself on call with our emergency phone for Cruise & Stay clients on Christmas Day – but thankfully there were no issues to interrupt the festivities!

So, with Christmas behind us, we are now in one of our busiest periods, as the New Year is traditionally a time for people to organise their future travel plans. I am delighted to see that all our hard work in restructuring the business last year, including introducing a Sales Support Team and continued recruitment, has resulted in the best service levels we have ever recorded. As we move into a new year, we now have a workforce of almost 150 which is the largest ever, and with more recruits joining our Cruise & Stay department in January, this figure is set to grow even higher. 

To further improve our customer service, I am pleased to share with you that we have signed contracts with BT and Mitel to update our entire phone system over the next few months. This will allow us to embrace new cutting-edge cloud systems that will bring us right up to date and enable us to handle your calls more efficiently. I will inform you of developments as they occur and let you know when the new system is fully operational.

As I have mentioned before, I would remind everyone our Bureau is by appointment only. This is particularly important during busy months like January and February, as we need to balance staff on telephone calls and those able to serve clients in the Bureau. We have had several instances when the Bureau is full with clients being served through pre-booked appointments, and a number of visitors arriving at the same time without having a reservation. Clearly, we don’t want visitors to be disappointed and left waiting a long time to be served, so please call in advance and book your appointment.

The most exciting news is that our new website was launched in December as planned. We are very pleased with the new look and feel, so if you haven’t already visited, I encourage you to head to bolsovercruiseclub.com and see what you think. The search tools are a world ahead of our previous version, and online bookings are being completed successfully with almost no initial teething issues. I was eager to see how much interest we would see in online bookings, and the early signs are encouraging. We have been completing transactions right from the launch of the new website and demand is growing daily. What is interesting is the types of bookings being made online, which are different from our usual profile; I will share our findings once the site has been operational for some time, and we have a better understanding of the most popular products that are being booked. 

If you choose to book with us online, you can access your booking at any time via the My Trip section on the website, and you should make your final payment through this section rather than our Call Centre. Apart from payments, we offer full telephone support from our Call Centre for online bookings so you can rely on our team’s full advice and expertise!

The cruise market is certainly well back on track after the difficult years through the Covid crisis, and forward business for this year is in a much more positive position than the same time last year. On average, cruise operators are all reporting that around two-thirds of their 2024 capacity is already sold, so this does suggest the late booking market is going to be much more limited and we can expect fares to remain strong. I read that the traffic at Southampton Docks generated over a billion pounds of revenue for the local economy in 2023, so we can anticipate even further growth this year. There were a staggering 420 ship visits and 2.6 million passengers making it a record year and, of course, many other regional ports are growing just the same.

Another great development is the introduction of the Starlink Wi-Fi satellite system to cruise ships and there seems little doubt that this will ultimately be rolled out across the majority of fleets. Seabourn, for example, has just announced that they have completed their upgrade programme for their entire fleet so passengers can enjoy enhanced broadband whilst onboard. Starlink is a low-orbiting satellite system and provides substantially faster and more reliable internet to most parts of the globe. I personally have Starlink at home, as living in the countryside, internet speeds with general providers are slow – I now achieve over 100Mbps with no loss of service. It is clearly a great product and will be a welcome addition to help people keep in touch and work whilst they are cruising.

The biggest ship in the world, Icon of the Seas, recently arrived in Miami ahead of her official debut in a little over a week’s time. As you would expect from a ship of this size, Royal Caribbean has included plenty of impressive features, including six record-breaking water slides and the first suspended infinity pool at sea. It is certainly one of the most impressive family-friendly ships and will be based in the Caribbean for her inaugural season. If you have your sights set on some winter sun, you can take a look at the itineraries here.

Meanwhile, Cunard has released details of its Insight Speaker programme for 2024, which I read includes appearances from 430 experts across the fleet. On board the brand-new ship Queen Anne, guests can expect to see Masterchef judge Gregg Wallace, as well as historian Dan Snow and sports presenter Claire Balding on selected voyages. Queen Elizabeth will host Ross Kemp in September, who will recall his time spent in Afghanistan and the Amazon. Please get in touch with our Cruise Experts if you are interested in any of these extra-special sailings.

Those of you who have signed up to receive your copy of Into the Blue should have started to receive your January/February issue. Highlights of this edition include a month-by-month guide on some of the destinations you should be visiting this year, and you can read our exclusive interview with Francis Fred, who has been integral to the design and development of Queen Anne. As always, this magazine remains complimentary to our Cruise Club Members and is delivered directly through your door every two months; if you’re not yet signed up, I would urge you to visit our website to register your details and ensure you don’t miss out on future issues!

Lastly, I’d like to share the good news that we have been shortlisted in the Luxury Cruise Agency of the Year category at the TTG Luxury Travel Awards 2024, the results of which will be announced on 1 March. The luxury cruise market represents a growing part of our business, and with so many different cruise lines and ships available, it is something I can only envisage going from strength to strength. Our Cruise & Stay department often creates itineraries that incorporate luxury cruise lines which you can browse on our website and there is, of course, the option for us to tailor a bespoke itinerary to your individual needs. Get in touch with our Cruise & Stay Experts if you would like more information.

Once again thank you for following my updates and I wish everyone travelling over the next month Bon Voyage and have a great holiday.

Yours sincerely,

Michael Wilson

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