Fred. Olsen is navigating new waters in the cruise industry

Cruise line's expansion into the river sector will enable it to offer a world of choice to passengers, says managing director Mike Rodwell

Fred. Olsen is navigating new waters in the cruise industry
Brabant is on a two-year charter and will sail on the Danube, Rhine, Main and Moselle
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2017 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed.

If variety is the spice of life then Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has it in spades. The company, which operates a fleet of four small vessels, has long been one of the industry’s biggest proponents of what it calls traditional cruising. Sailing out of mainly British ports, the company attracts an older clientele who enjoy the ease with which they can turn up at a port and begin their holiday – often sailing to some of the world’s most exotic destinations – before returning back to British shores.

However, following a recent announcement, the company is embarking on an interesting new direction.

“Our expansion into the river cruise market was just a natural extension to what we already offer as a brand: taking our guests ‘closer’ to the destination, and incorporating some of the very best in scenic sailing, combined with our relaxed British style where our guests enjoy a friendly and welcoming atmosphere onboard our vessels,” explains Mike Rodwell, managing director of Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines.

“We have found that the river cruises that we already offer on our ocean-going fleet prove extremely popular with our guests, and are some of our strongest-selling itineraries,” he adds. “Our repeat guests made it clear they are interested in taking a river cruise with us, so it made sense to expand into this sector. This interest has certainly been reflected in our river cruise sales to date.”

The small amount of ‘river cruising’ that Fred. Olsen currently offers consists of its ocean ships taking a journey into the deeper waters of rivers like the Seine in France, before docking in Rouen for two nights. Its new programme is an entirely different proposition. Brabant, which joins Boudicca, Braemar, Balmoral and Black Watch, will be operating on the Rhine and Danube from April 2018. With cruises running from seven nights, all the way through to an epic 25-night sailing from Hirsova in Romania to Dusseldorf in Germany. However, does Rodwell fear that his new river business could cannibalise the existing ocean operation?

“There is an element of cross-over,” he admits, adding that it is mostly an opportunity to expand the pool of customers who are looking for a similar cruise experience to what Fred. Olsen already specialises in with its ocean product.

“In keeping with our ocean cruises, guests can enjoy a quintessentially British experience onboard, where English will be spoken by staff and all transactions will be conducted in pound sterling. And, just like our ocean cruises, our river cruise programme is targeted at those who are keen to experience scenic cruising, getting right to the very heart of the destinations, with all the must-see sights just a short distance away.”

While Rodwell denies that the company is looking to expand on its one river vessel at this stage – it currently has Brabant on a two-season charter – he does confess that it isn’t out of the question.

“Certainly, there is potential for us to expand our river cruise product and, if there is sufficient customer demand, we have not ruled out the possibility of introducing more Fred. Olsen river ships on Europe’s waterways,” he says.

New ocean ships are not on the cards at this stage, however, especially given that the company is currently embarking on a refurbishment programme of its existing fleet, which will be completed by spring 2018. “We will always keep an open mind, and certainly we would not wish to rule it out,” Rodwell comments. “But if we are going to expand our ocean-going fleet, then we will do this when we feel that the time is right.”

Another recent development at Fred. Olsen was the decision to reduce its ex-UK programme. It will now operate out of just five British ports (down from 10). However, the company insists that it has run the numbers and calculated that 52% of passengers will live within a 90-minute drive of a port, down from 57% previously.

The reduction of British ports has meant an increase in Fred. Olsen’s fly-cruise programme, something that Rodwell says was ardently led by its customers, for whom variety really is key.

“At Fred. Olsen, we have a cruise for everyone – from around-the-world voyages of more than 100 nights’ duration for those who want the excitement of visiting new places and have the time to enjoy a longer holiday, to fly-cruise getaways for guests who would like to reach an exotic destination in a shorter period of time,” Rodwell remarks. “In addition, we offer cruises during the school holidays, which are suitable for children and, in particular, multi-generational families. In contrast, we also offer an increasing number of dedicated over-eighteens cruises for those who want to unwind completely on their holiday and enjoy like-minded adult company.”

Rodwell adds: “At Fred. Olsen, we already offer a variety of river cruises onboard our ocean-going fleet from convenient UK departure ports, so by offering a fly-cruise river product, this serves to complement our existing ocean offering.” With its new river cruise venture and expanded fly-cruise programme, it certainly does seem that variety really is the spice of life at Fred. Olsen.

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Monday, November 13, 2017