Carnival UK celebrates the best of times

It is an exciting time for both P&O Cruises and Cunard Line. Susan Parker catches up with Carnival UK chairman David Dingle to find out why

Carnival UK celebrates the best of times
This article was first published in the Autumn/Winter 2015 issue of International Cruise & Ferry Review.

This year being the 175th anniversary of Cunard Line and marking the arrival of Britannia into the P&O Cruises’ fleet, it is a hugely important one for the Carnival UK brands.

David Dingle says: “It has been a remarkable year for P&O and Cunard. It has helped to inject energy and awareness into both of the brands at a time when there is so much excitement in the wider industry, not least in the Carnival order book.”

Focusing first on P&O Cruises, he says: “I think Britannia has greatly increased the profile of P&O Cruises and also acted as a platform to carry the brand forward.”

Adding 24% to a full year’s capacity is a big ask in terms of sales but it has begun well. “With the first year of a new ship the brand loyalists all want to rush out and see it. It will not be until next year that we start seeing whether we passed the test of disproportionately growing new to the brand.”

Things have changed since Oriana was introduced 20 years ago, as he recalls: “Then, the best of British was considered to be retrospective.” It was about “reinventing Britain” which was “not exactly creating an exciting image”. Now, however, he believes that it is very much about the present, which has given P&O the opportunity to shout about its roots.

“These days there is no shame in showing you are British. We are doing that by materially bringing into our ships symbols of Britain.” He mentions the presence of the Food Heroes (including Marco Pierre White, Olly Smith, Charlie Turnbull and Eric Lanlard) and the stars of TV series Strictly Come Dancing on the ships, as well as the inclusion of modern British design from Richmond International and the Union Jack colours painted on the hull of Britannia as important parts of the mix.

He continues: “Being a brand for the British market is a strength. Because we have focused entirely on one market we can deliver better as we are not making compromises.” This means providing more itinerary options and not being limited to sailing ex-Southampton.

With the brand having started Mediterranean fly-cruising in 2014, the arrival of Britannia enables further opportunities. “We are hoping to develop this in 2016 with some more interesting and different itineraries. The eighth [vessel] also allows us to do different things in the winter.” Dingle cites the example of fly-cruising out of Barbados, which he says will allow for a focus on the West Indies and the Southern Caribbean. With Britannia requiring 12 full charter flights over two days it is creating massive opportunities for Barbados in terms of pre- and post-cruise activities and shore excursions.

In addition, mid-duration cruises of 50 nights “seem to be hitting the spot for those not wanting to be away all winter” so next winter Oriana will be sailing an ex-UK in-depth Caribbean and US itinerary. Further opportunities include the Caribbean to Brazil and the Amazon and all-round South America itineraries. “We can combine some very exciting marquee ports, for example Rio (de Janeiro) and New Orleans. It starts to get very interesting.”

Commenting on Carnival Corporation & plc’s new Fathom brand and Adonia’s part in it, Dingle explains that she represents only 4% of P&O’s capacity. He says: “Adonia is not going to go from the UK market for good but provides a low-risk start.” All being well there will be strong demand for the product which will lead on to it requiring larger ships. As far as Cuba is concerned, he says: “No matter what trading agreements are opened up there is still a huge need for tourist and port infrastructure.”

Looking five years ahead, Dingle says: “I would like to think we will be ready for perhaps another new ship.” However before then there are many opportunities. “I would like to see Med fly-cruising as a well-embedded second string to [P&O’s] deployment in the summer and another winter trade for diversity,” although he is not sure what that would be yet.

As far as China is concerned he does not think it is something for the P&O brand but remarks: “Carnival already has Costa and Princess in China serving the premium, contemporary end of the market. I think a gap still to be filled would be more of an opportunity for Cunard.”

In terms of Cunard, Asia is being looked at more generally. At present Japan is the strongest Asian market. “We are starting to create legs on round-the-world cruises that are particularly appealing to Japanese and Chinese guests.” For example Queen Elizabeth is sailing a series of Japanese ports. On Queen Mary 2 there is almost a circle piece out of Shanghai so it is possible to take passengers on just part of a world cruise. Dingle says this will gain more understanding from travel agents but comments: “We will have to manage the number of Japanese and Chinese onboard so we have continuity for our present guests. We have to be careful that the product delivery doesn’t keep lurching around but Cunard is good at that.”

Dingle is keen to see these passengers also joining Mediterranean fly-cruises in the summer and indeed there is already growing Japanese support for these cruises. Managing this growth is key. “We don’t want to dig too deeply into any one market because Cunard is for wealthy international guests.” He says that growing this market of high-level travellers will provide “the evidence we would need to introduce new capacity”. Whether this will result in ordering a newbuilding in the next five years, Dingle is unable to say as “it is too early on the journey.”

Certainly Cunard’s 175th anniversary this year has propelled it into the limelight. The pinnacle of the commemorative and celebratory events was that of Queen Mary 2 following in the first Britannia’s footsteps. On July 4 1840 the latter sailed from Liverpool across the Atlantic to Halifax, Boston and New York for the first time.

It seems apt therefore that Dingle should close with the words: “The only reason to look back is to remember lessons from the past. You look forward.” The past has brought these brands to where they are today and the future is looking very bright.

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Susan Parker
By Susan Parker
08 January 2016

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