My message comes to you on a very cold winter’s day, with significant snowfall overnight making it difficult for me to reach our call centre this morning. The day also closed with the sad news that Captain Sir Tom Moore had passed away aged 100. He won the hearts of an entire nation in walking around his garden to raise £33 million for the NHS! I was happy to read that he had enjoyed a final family holiday in Barbados courtesy of British Airways; something ‘off his bucket list’ as he revealed. I can certainly understand why, Barbados is a favourite of mine and I was there this time last year, experiencing my very first concerns that our industry could be ripped apart by this pandemic.

Fast-forward a year and here we are, very much in the grip of COVID-19, but reassured to know that, since my last message, just short of 10 million adults have now had their first vaccine. That’s well on track to meet the Government’s target of reaching the top four at-risk groups by mid-February. It remains clear that the success of the global vaccination programme dictates the speed of our return to normality and of course, a return to cruising. The coming weeks will be very interesting as we begin to see the effects of the vaccines; I have already noted a number of positive indications reported in the media and will be keeping a keen eye on progress.

I mentioned previously that I had created a strategic group of staff, returning from furlough two days a week into the call centre. Their task has been to reach out to the tens of thousands of clients we were unable to contact personally when their voyage was suspended. This was going really well, the team having called just short of 5000 clients as we went into the January lockdown. However, I decided that whilst lockdown rules allowed us to continue, given the high infection rates in our local area at the time and considering the wellbeing of my staff, it was prudent to halt this until the situation eased. I am pleased to announce that, in light of a reduction in infection rates, we have just resumed this fantastic work and are again reaching out to our valued clients. Once again, can I thank everyone for the very warm welcome that my staff continue to receive; this is sincerely appreciated as they have all been through a difficult few months.

As I mentioned previously, the main aim of our strategic team is to reach out to clients whose cruise was suspended and to discuss any outstanding issues. One of the main queries we have found is the subject of Future Cruise Certificates, commonly called FCCs. These were awarded by many cruise operators when sailings were suspended and represent a value of money that can be deducted off a future cruise. A common question is are around the value of the credit and my team can certainly help with that.

During the intense confusion last year and amidst often changing rules, it is understandable that some people can be confused. If you need help on understanding the value of your FCC, how it can be used, or indeed any other query, you do not have to wait to be called. Remember, our main sales department are open daily and can help with any questions you have, so please feel free to call them. Our reduced COVID-19 opening times for telephone enquiries remains Monday to Friday 9-5.30pm, Saturday 9-5pm and Sunday 10-4pm. As you would expect, the Cruise Bureau remains closed to visitors until further notice.

I would also like to remind you that ALL FCCs can be used when booking your cruise through us! We occasionally find clients are under the misconception that they can only be used when booking directly and I want to make it abundantly clear, this is not the case. Plus, when you book with us, you will enjoy your usual Cruise Club Cashback and the award-winning service that has proved so important during these difficult and trying times.

On the subject of our award-winning service, I make no apology in mentioning that several of our main travel agent competitors have not handled the pandemic well. If you have been affected by issues around very extensive delays in receiving your refund and such, then can I remind you that you are free to use your operator FCC with us. You are not obliged to rebook with the travel agent who has not dealt with your refund as they should. We are already seeing a significant number of clients in this position turning to us and we look forward to helping you.

Looking ahead, it is clear that a full return to cruising is still a little while away and cruise suspensions continue to creep further into 2021. I am still optimistic that summer UK cruises are not out of the question, but as I quoted David Dingle in my previous bulletin, the first cruises are likely to be voyages close to the UK for an initial test period. This is certainly not out of the question, as demonstrated by the more than 20 ships currently sailing and servicing their home markets, including Quantum of the Seas out of Singapore, Mein Schiff 1 and 2 out of Las Palmas, MSC Magnifica out of Genoa, Costa Smeralda out of Savona, and four Aida ships operating from Spain and Germany. We will keep you posted as soon as any developments occur for UK cruisers.

On another point, we have largely suspended our own Cruise & Stay tour operator packaging for 2021 departures, as flight schedules are too unpredictable and worldwide borders look to remain closed for a while longer. We are however happy to build Cruise and Stay packages for 2022 and beyond, so please do not hesitate to call if you have a specific cruise and land stay/tour in mind.

I am pleased to say that we are seeing very strong sales for late 2021 and 2022 despite all the issues that we all face and I thank everyone for choosing Bolsover Cruise Club as your agent. Whilst bookings are varied, I thought you might like to see the top voyages booked by our clients so far since the New Year!

Princess Cruises 13-night Mediterranean cruise on Sky Princess departing 23 September 2021 (Y126N)

Princess Cruises 15-night Mediterranean cruise on Sky Princess departing 22 October 2021 (Y129N)

P&O Cruises 15-night Atlantic Islands cruise on Iona departing 19 February 2022 (G205)

P&O Cruises 8-night Northern Europe cruise on Iona departing 23 October 2021 (G135)

Princess Cruises 15-night Northern Europe cruise on Sky Princess departing 9 July 2022 (Y221)

That’s all from me and just leaves me to say please keep safe and I hope to bring positive news in March, especially in terms of UK cruises that I know many of you are eagerly awaiting to resume.