Once again, I am disappointed to report that the last month has been yet another difficult one for my team with news of further large-scale suspensions over the forthcoming autumn/winter season to the more inaccessible regions. However, this time the pressure has been compounded by the start of the new staycation cruise season and, to be frank, some of the unhelpful technical problems with pre-departure and embarkation systems from several major cruise lines. Plus, of course, the inevitable extra burden created by the additional Covid-19 requirements. The subsequent demand on our phones has far exceeded our capacity over the past few weeks and again I must apologise if you have experienced any delay in trying to talk to one of our team. These extraordinary circumstances continue to be very much outside of our direct control and I sincerely appreciate everyone’s patience as we continue to work hard on your behalf! With that in mind, if you do have a question around your first cruise in a while and what to expect in terms of things like apps and Covid testing, take a look at our new FAQs page where you’ll likely find the answer.
Whilst on the subject of our capacity, I am sure you will have seen through the media the difficulties UK companies are facing in losing and then replacing staff during the pandemic. We have certainly not been immune from this, losing a considerable number of our workforce, and replacing these has been particularly difficult at a time when the majority of our remaining staff are working from home. However, as we move into August, the gradual programme of bringing staff back to the office has begun and I hope that by Christmas at the very latest we will be operating fully from The Cruise Centre again. Having staff in the office is key to our recruitment and training programme and, with this in mind, our management team have been working hard to replace staff. I’m delighted to confirm that as a result we have a significant number of new recruits joining us throughout August and September. I look forward to welcoming these new faces over the coming weeks and to introducing them to you, once they have completed our usual extensive training programme.
Like me, you will no doubt have seen social media full of posts from the new staycation sailings and it is tremendous to see cruises back again! However, for me what is both very noticeable and therefore reassuring, is the fact that they are all being completed without any Covid outbreaks! That is in sharp contrast to the early days back in 2020 when Covid first surfaced. Several of our staff have been taking staycations as holidays themselves and their feedback is really positive. Please make sure you follow us on Facebook and Instagram and keep track of our team as they post regular updates of their staycation adventures. With so many different cruise lines currently sailing out of the UK, these posts provide a great insight into ships that are normally less accessible. Over the next few months we have staff travelling on Virgin Voyages’ Scarlet Lady, Silversea’s Silver Moon and Viking Ocean, for example, as well as Regent Seven Seas Splendour and many other ships.
Our website is also a great place to stay informed; numerous clients have reviewed their recent staycation cruise in our Cruise Reviews centre, so don’t just take our word for it – browse the many reviews left by our members and hear the honest feedback from them too. It is a great general reference point with some 6000 reviews covering over 230 different ships. You can also play a role in helping us build on this even more by sharing your own recent experience at sea here; do take a look, any new reviews would be greatly appreciated by all of us here at Bolsover Cruise Club and by your fellow cruise lovers alike.
The biggest news over the past month was the Foreign and Commonwealth Office finally announcing that it has lifted its advice against international cruising! This took effect from 2 August, representing the green light that cruise operators have been waiting for and now meaning they can commence cruises beyond UK waters. Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, announced the end of this long-standing ban at the end of July and this, coupled with the recent easing of travel restrictions, means that many of the planned cruises in late summer and beyond can continue as planned. It really is the news we in the cruise industry have been waiting for – at last the signs are positive that we are now moving steadily back to normality.
I mentioned autumn suspensions earlier and this included a relatively small number of sailings/flights on P&O Cruises Caribbean programmes beginning in October. This is clearly disappointing for any clients booked on one of the cancelled options but, on the positive side, the vast majority of remaining P&O Caribbean cruises and flights are set to operate normally. I mentioned how important this was to us in a previous monthly update, because we have a significant number of clients travelling on these cruises over the winter. I am confident these will now go ahead as planned and there is still availability on the remaining cruises for those of you ready for some long-needed winter sunshine. On this point, the suspensions came at a time when we were overwhelmed by hundreds of cancelled cruises in just a few days and clients were notified by P&O directly. In any normal situation we would follow this up by calling everyone, but we are not in a normal situation and found it impossible to reach out due to unprecedented levels of inbound calls. If you were unfortunate enough to have had your Caribbean cruise cancelled and have not spoken to us and still wish to travel, please call our Sales Team on 01246 819819 who will be happy to look at the alternative options with you.
Last month I mentioned the development of our online immigration form which will allow clients to provide immigration data and missing personal information in relation to a recent booking. Due to security requirements this was a significant development, but I am delighted to confirm that, as planned, this went live at the end of July and we have already received a large number of automated responses.
Thank you to those of you that have embraced this new functionality and I do ask that you take a few moments to complete the form when you next book with us if you haven’t already. As a reminder, this does not replace the need for you to complete the same information on your cruise operator’s personaliser, as we do not have access to this information due to the restrictions imposed by data protection. However, having this information ourselves is important if we need to provide consular assistance or emergency repatriation whilst you are abroad, and it also speeds up the booking process on your next reservation with us! Over the next few months, we will be applying the same technology to enable payments to be made via a similar webpage, thereby reducing calls to simply pay a balance. I will keep you in the loop as this work is progressed.
Finally, as I write this message, at very long last passengers are arriving in Southampton to join Iona on her maiden cruise, a seven-night staycation voyage that includes a kaleidoscopic fireworks display off the coast of the ship’s namesake island in Scotland. This is followed by three days of scenic cruising around Scotland and will see a dazzling array of entertainment, plus a host of celebrity chefs onboard. This is clearly a significant milestone and really does set the tone that cruising is finally back. We wish Iona every success as she joins the P&O family!
If you are about to cruise again shortly then I bid you ‘Bon Voyage!’ and have a great time. That’s it for this month and here’s hoping for continued positive news over the coming weeks.