Hello and welcome to my April 2022 update!
It’s great to be able share with you that current trade is very strong and the number of passengers travelling is rapidly getting back to normal. P&O Cruises recently launched their summer 2024 programme, and I am delighted to report that, once again, we were able to use our bespoke advance registration system and were able to secure virtually 100% of our clients’ first choice of cruise and cabin. Well done to our Sales Team for their great effort, particularly during a time of high call volumes relating to other issues.
The unexpected introduction of Enchanted Princess sailing round trip from Southampton in summer 2022 was great news for the UK cruise market and again our bookings in April have been outstanding. Enchanted Princess is one of the latest generation Princess Cruises ships, with MedallionClass technology, a spectacular contemporary style and luxury that we come to expect from their Royal Class fleet. There is still lots of space on these great sailings with prices starting from £531 per person, all-inclusive, for five nights, so do call for further details.
Unfortunately, the main underlying theme over the past month remains staffing issues, a direct result of the pandemic and sadly, as you will recall, this has been a common thread throughout my recent monthly updates. No doubt you will have seen the problems in the news at Heathrow and Manchester airports, with serious delays caused by high levels of staff absence due to covid. Similarly, I see that many hospitals are struggling with staff levels for the same reason. Another example was a simple repair to my car. I dropped this into the dealer and collected a loan car, only to wait for two weeks for them to undertake the work due to a lack of available staff. Who could have forecast that covid would result in such issues and, unfortunately, this continues to impact our ability to manage the current volume of calls to our usual standard. Your continued patience and understanding during these extraordinary times really is appreciated.
In our case, phone volumes are also affected by product changes and cancellations which frequently impact a large number of clients at the same time. For example, last Friday at 3pm, we received the news that P&O Cruises were cancelling the next seven Arcadia sailings and redistributing staff amongst their remaining fleet, as a measure to overcome staffing issues caused by absence. After a week of high call volumes caused by a number of issues, you can imagine that our phones lit up once again with clients who naturally wanted to transfer to other cruises. News like this at the beginning of a weekend could not have come at a more difficult time, particularly as we had over a thousand cancelled passengers. I am pleased to say booking numbers over the weekend reflected a successful transfer operation and I thank clients affected by these cancellations for their understanding when calling to rearrange their holiday.
It is difficult to forecast how long our phone issues will continue to struggle as covid sickness remains prevalent and client queries also continue to run at an all-time high. Sadly, cruise operators have not helped the situation with many clients still experiencing issues relating to cancellations and suspensions going back to 2020-21. However, on this point, we are seeing some good progress and it will be great to have these behind us soon, so we can focus on looking after clients with their current and future cruises.
I mentioned the delays at major airports and, as our Cruise & Stay Department gets back to their normal level of operation, last weekend they had their largest volume of clients travelling since the beginning of the pandemic. The team were nervous as the weekend unfolded, but I am delighted to report that everyone got away and they are now safely overseas enjoying their holidays.
Staying on the theme of our Cruise & Stay Department, this is very much an expanding part of our business and current trade is very strong indeed. We now have the full capacity to tailor-make any cruise and stay holiday and are very competitive. So, whether you are simply looking for a pre- or post-cruise stay, exciting train journey or unusual excursion, please let us know and leave the rest to us! In the unfortunate situation that your Cruise & Stay holiday is cancelled, we guarantee to refund within 14 days in accordance with the European Package Directive; something not true of some of our competitors, evidenced by a number of highly active social media action groups.
I just wanted to remind everyone that the Cruise Bureau remains closed to visitors as we prioritise using sales staff to manage the phones. This will remain the case until call volumes normalise and our ongoing recruitment campaign returns fully trained staff numbers to pre-pandemic levels. Our training team continues to work flat out to bring new sales staff to the floor, but this takes time as we will only allow fully trained staff to take sales calls. I am optimistic that by summer we will be close to being able to reopen on an appointment basis and I will let you know once we do.
On a similar note, can I remind you that covid has accelerated the closure of local bank branches and we no longer have access to the facility to bank cash and cheques. This change was undoubtedly coming anyway and the pandemic has simply brought forward the inevitable. I announced at the beginning of 2020 that we were no longer able to take cash and cheques and, given the absence of local banking arrangements, we will not be reintroducing this facility in line with most other businesses. The preferred payment alternative aside from credit and debit card payments, are BACS or Fastpay transfers using online banking or mobile banking on your phone. Payment information and our bank details can be found in your confirmation booklet. Looking ahead, we are currently developing a PCI-compliant webpage to enable you to pay online and I hope to share details of this in the coming months.
Last month, I mentioned that a number of our staff were about to experience some really exciting ships and I hope you had chance to follow them via social media as they share great photos and much more. If you haven’t seen these, I urge you not to miss out and to follow us on both Instagram and Facebook. In just two weeks, the latest Celebrity Cruises ship, Celebrity Beyond, begins service and I am really thrilled to be joining a press and agent event over two nights before her maiden voyage. I am joined by a small number of our staff and once again we will be busy on social media sharing details of this exciting new addition, so please do look out!
Including Celebrity Beyond, the restart of the global cruise industry continues to gather momentum as some 300 cruise ships are due to sail in April. That compares to just over 260 ships in March, and a mere 22 in April last year. These will consist of 70-plus brands, compared to just 20 at the same time last year. This really goes to show how the cruise market is getting back on track and with fewer travel restrictions, the variety of options to cruise expand literally by the day!
Once again thank you for following my updates and I wish everyone travelling over the next month Bon Voyage and have a great holiday.