A fresh ambassador for the British cruise industry

Rebecca Gibson speaks with Christian Verhounig about new brand Ambassador Cruise Line, which is set to boost the UK’s cruise market in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic

A fresh ambassador for the British cruise industry
Ambassador aims to provide a relaxing and premium-value cruise experience for the over-50s market in the UK

Ambassador Cruise Line (Ambassador) made history in May 2021 when it became the first cruise line to launch in the UK in more than a decade. Designed to offer a “premium-value, authentic cruise experience”, the brand will homeport at London Tilbury and offer no-fly itineraries that are primarily aimed at guests aged 50 and above. According to new CEO Christian Verhounig, the brand will help to reboot the British cruise market and inject confidence into the sector following the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Our consumer research shows that there’s massive pent-up demand in the market and 40 per cent of UK adults aged 50 plus are already looking to book holidays for 2022 because they want to make up for missed travel opportunities during the pandemic,” he says. “Around 25 per cent of them want to visit multiple destinations within one holiday, and almost half would consider a cruise. In addition, the 50-plus market is growing rapidly and many of the consumers in this segment have the time and income available to enjoy longer cruises. They’re also looking for smaller ships offering a more intimate and traditional cruise experience, as well as a hassle-free holiday option that doesn’t involve flying.” 

Ambassador will deliver a distinctive experience that offers the best of British cruising by combining traditional experiences – such as gala nights – with innovative enrichment activities. The friendly atmosphere will make it particularly suited to solo travellers, says Verhounig.  

“There’s a growing number of people in the 50-plus market that choose to travel alone but struggle to find cruises because many operators either do not offer solo accommodation, or they make it prohibitively expensive,” he says. “We’ve created 89 single-occupancy cabins in five different categories and will offer them at a highly competitive supplement that is cheaper than the industry standard. Not only will this make our cruises more affordable for solo travellers, but it will also benefit everyone onboard the ship because it will reduce overall capacity and improve the guest-to-space and guest-to-crew ratios.”   

Initially, Ambassador will operate one ship named Ambience, which formerly sailed as P&O Cruises’ Pacific Dawn. Onboard highlights will include nine lounges, five restaurants (including speciality dining options), two cafes, a spa, two swimming pools, and fitness and leisure facilities. The ship will accommodate around 1,400 guests in 798 cabins, 23 per cent of which will have balconies. 

“We’ll carry out various cosmetic upgrades to ensure Ambience offers a premium onboard experience and feels like an Ambassador ship,” says Verhounig. “We’ll make small changes to some of the public areas and renovate the guest accommodation, but the majority of the refurbishment work will focus on improving the sustainability of the ship to reduce our environmental footprint.”  

Before starting service, Ambience will be equipped with advanced ballast and sewage water treatment systems to enable it to sail in environmentally protected waters worldwide. The ship will also be equipped with emission reduction technologies to ensure compliance with the International Maritime Organization’s Tier III regulation, which enters force on 1 January 2025 to reduce nitrogen oxide emissions.  

“We’re investing in various green technologies to enable us to reach the extremely high environmental and sustainability targets we have set ourselves,” says Verhounig. “We will not have single-use plastics onboard the ship and we’ve invested in IT technologies to digitise our menus, shore plans and activity schedules to reduce paper waste.”  

Ambience will debut with a short inaugural cruise to Hamburg, Germany on 6 April 2022 and then operate 33 cruises to 90 ports worldwide in her first full year of operation. Destinations will include the British Isles, Norwegian fjords, Scandinavia, the Baltics, Greenland, Iceland, the Arctic, the Canary Islands, Cuba, the Caribbean and Cape Verde. 

“The itineraries will be very diverse and take guests to places that larger cruise ships are unable to go,” says Verhounig. “We’re collaborating with destination partners to develop a range of sustainable shore excursions that will satisfy all our guests and have a positive impact on both the environment and the local communities in the destinations we visit.” 

Ambassador is led by an experienced management team that includes several executives from UK-based cruise brand Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV), which went into administration in July 2020 due to the pandemic. However, Verhounig, who was himself part of the CMV team, is unphased by any comparisons that might be drawn between the two companies.  

“We’re fortunate to be able to draw on the experience and expertise of those who led CMV when developing Ambassador but it’s a completely new company with different goals, priorities and owners,” he says. “We’ll deliver a distinctive cruise experience that will be appealing to past CMV guests and new customers and first-time cruisers too.” 

Another key difference is Ambassador’s unique financial model. The brand is fully equity-financed through a multimillion-pound investment and fund scheme managed by London-based firm Njord Partners. Unlike most established cruise lines, Ambassador will not use guests’ deposits to finance its operations but will instead pay their monies into a fully independently managed trust account and they will only be released on the day of departure. Additional insurance cover has also been implemented to financially protect all monies paid directly to Ambassador or via travel agents in case of cancellations.  

“Many people save for months or even years to afford their dream cruise holiday and the pandemic has made them anxious about losing money if we’re forced to cancel because of new travel restrictions or health and safety concerns,” says Verhounig. “Our safeguards ensure all parties are fully financially protected if this happens, giving our guests greater peace of mind. It’s a completely new concept for the cruise industry and we’re already had interest from other operators who are considering implementing a similar financial model in future.”  

Buoyed by the initial success of the brand’s launch, Verhounig is hopeful that Ambassador is already well on its way to becoming the UK’s premium-value cruise line. “The response we received from both the industry and the consumers has far exceeded our greatest expectations and we’re looking forward to welcoming guests onboard in 2022. In future, we may look to expand the business further afield to other European countries or potentially worldwide.”

This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2021 issue of Cruise & Ferry Review. All information was correct at the time of printing, but may since have changed. 

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Rebecca Gibson
By Rebecca Gibson
30 November 2021

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