Fred Olsen launched their 2017/18 brochure and itineraries last night with a presentation in central London. The main presentation was done by marketing director Nathan Philpot, and there was an introduction by Fred Olsen MD Mike Rodwell. Towards the end of the evening they were joined by their recently-appointed head of sales, Neal Herbert.
Before they discussed the brochure and itineraries, both Mike Rodwell and Nathan Philpot gave some information about Fred Olsen’s success in the market. They say that 2015 had been an excellent year for the company, with revenues and profits both significantly increased over the previous year. Early bookings for 2016 suggest that this is being continued – the position regarding a bookings in the early months of this year is ahead of where they were 12 months ago, so they are confident of another good year. One very interesting point that was made is that Fred Olsen are not seeing any increase in ‘late bookers’ – that is, would-be passengers waiting until the last minute before making a booking in the hope of getting a reduced price. For Fred Olsen it’s the opposite, they say – more cruises than ever are being fully booked earlier than ever. This puts them in stark contrast to other lines operating in the UK.
Nathan Philpot’s principal argument is that Fred Olsen gives cruise passengers what they really want – an intimate small ship experience. Coupled with that he also said that passengers are looking for innovative, unusual destinations and itineraries, and that these two combined explain Fred Olsen’s success in the last couple of years. As regards the intimacy of the experience, there’s no argument that’s what Fred Olsen provide. Indeed, given the small size of their ships that’s inevitable – only Balmoral (43,000 tons and about 1250 passengers) is has a regular capacity of more than 1000 passengers.
As regards the itineraries, Fred Olsen seem to be continuing their move away from the routine – 14 night cruises to the Med or the Baltic and 12 nights to the Canaries are no longer the staple (although they still feature in the brochure). Even the 7 night cruise to the Fjords, a longtime Fred Olsen strength, is no longer the norm. Instead, there are now many crushes of varying lengths, both longer (28 nights to the E Mediterranean on Braemar) and shorter – 5 night short cruises to the Fjords from Newcastle on Balmoral.
There seems to be be a general shift away from Atlantic and Mediterranean cruises to destinations further north. Nathan Philpot spoke at length about what he called “waterways” cruises, or fjords in other places than Norway. There are several iterations of a a German Waterways cruise, typically 10 nights, and typically calling at Flensburg, Lubeck (from Travemünde), Hamburg (with an overnight stay in at least some cases) and Bremen, and of course the cruises also feature a passage through the Kiel canal. These are available on Braemar (from Southampton), Black Watch from Dover, and Balmoral from Newcastle. The focus for these cruises is on the historic port destinations, and the voyages as far upriver as Fred’s small ships can get. As such they are certainly cruises that the likes of P&O’s 100,000+ ton ships can’t even attempt. There are similar cruises to Scandinavian destinations – Swedish Waterways and Danish Waterways, for example.
The other major focus is on regional ports. In addition to Southampton, Fred Olsen cruises will also be departing from Dover, Newcastle, Rosyth, Belfast, Harwich, Tilbury, Greenock, and Falmouth. Some of these get more use than others – there are just two cruises from Falmouth, for example, as against thirteen from Newcastle – but it is good to see regional ports being used.
There’s a lot more analysis to be done on the itineraries and I shall try to do so later today or tomorrow. I haven’t mentioned the wide range range of cruises to seriously northern waters – Iceland, Spitsbergen and Northern Norway – all of which are very successful. One thing is very clear even from an initial reading, and that’s the range and variety of cruises that will be available. I posted on Monday about the leak of the 2017 itineraries for P&O and my reaction to most of what I saw was “Same old, same old”, but that’s not what I’m feeling looking at this brochure. Perhaps Val and I ought to look at Fred again for 2017.