Posts Tagged ‘Swan Hellenic’

We plan to restart the operation of Swan Hellenic in early 2018 with a new ship and new voyages…..

About a year ago the All Leisure Group collapsed, taking with them two cruise lines, Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery. Some parts of All Leisure Group live on – the Travelsphere operation, which was apparently profitable, was taken over by G Adventures and has continued to trade.

G Adventures also took over the Swan Hellenic brand, and made statements to the effect that they would make an announcement about the line’s future sometime in 2017. (I did a post about this here.) We’re now into 2018 and there has been no word. There is still a basic web page for Swan Hellenic, but it just repeats G Adventures’ statement and asks for contact details.

I tried contact G Adventures last week to enquire about their plans for Swan Hellenic but received a reply that pointed me back to the Swan Hellenic webpage. Here’s the text:

If you would like to receive updates regarding Swan Hellenic, please sign up for the annoucement emails here: https://swanhellenic.com/

So I did this and on the response screen following the registration page there’s this further message:-

We plan to restart the operation of Swan Hellenic in early 2018 with a new ship and new voyages that will continue the brand’s extraordinary legacy. Itineraries will be announced this summer.

So perhaps the best way to find out what’s happening with Swan Hellenic would be to register your interest on the Swan Hellenic web page.

But I would counsel anyone doing so to not hold their breath while waiting. Running a cruise line is so very different from what G Adventures currently does (and very successfully indeed, I should say) that I’m not surprised that they’re taking longer than they anticipated. Indeed, I’ll actually be surprised if G Adventures are able to bring this plan to fruition at all – it really is so very different from what they do. Perhaps they’re actually looking to sell the brand on to a company who have the relevant experience and resources.

Finally, it looks as if the Voyages of Discovery operation has died completely – there have never been any plans to resurrect it.

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I’ve learned some more about the return of Swan Hellenic.

As Malcolm Oliver said, the brand has been bought by G Adventures, who had already bought two other All Leisure brands – Travelsphere and Just You. However they have not chartered Minerva, the ship that Swan Hellenic was using to deliver its cruises and it’s not yet known what ship they will use. Cruises will start in 2018, and they’ll publish details this summer.

My thoughts? Well, I can’t help thinking things are stacked against them. Running a single-ship operation is a big challenge; there are all sorts of economies of scale that they won’t be able to achieve. Hopefully, they’ll integrate the booking side of things into their existing businesses. I have a feeling that this new version of Swan Hellenic might turn out to be different from what has gone before. After all, you’ve got to ask what the management team at G Adventures can bring to the table that the ALG management couldn’t. It wouldn’t surprise me if Swan Hellenic’s cruises became more integrated with the existing businesses – perhaps some sort of 50/50 land/cruise holiday? We shall see.

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I understand that Swan Hellenic will be relaunched some time during the year. I missed this completely, but Malcolm Oliver didn’t – here’s a link to his post about it.

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There’s an interesting interview with Roger Allard, chairman of the just-failed All Leisure Group company, in Travel Weekly.

You’d be best reading the whole interview, but I gleaned a few interesting points from it:-

  • First, he apologies profusely for the closure of the business, and blames it on a ‘perfect storm’ of adverse influences;
  • He’s saying that the decision to close down the business was not taken at the last possible moment but at an early stage. As a result, there is money in the bank to pay creditors and refund fares, etc, for passengers who have made bookings;
  • My interpretation of his words is that it was Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery that broke the company, and that this was for two reasons: a) so much of expenses for these companies are paid abroad in currencies other than GBP, and b) it wasn’t possible to increase prices (especially for existing bookings, presumably). On the first of these reasons, he points out that the drop in the value of sterling after the June referendum increased the sterling cost of expenditure in € and US$ by 14% and 20% immediately;
  • It has also become harder to travel to the areas where Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery have traditionally sailed due to the continuing unrest in the region. Many cruises lines have stopped making calls at Istanbul, for example;
  • The other businesses, Travelsphere and Just You, were more resilient, and have found a new owner;
  • And Hebridean Island Cruises, which has a predominantly UK-focused set of itineraries, has also been found to be potentially profitable and has been saved. (I’m hoping to find out more about more about that later today).

It’s always disappointing to see companies fail. There will be inquests into this one, as there always are, and I will read the outcome with interest. However, at the moment this looks like a controlled demolition rather than an out-of-control crash.

That said, I recognise that’s no consolation to passengers who have had their cruises cancelled, in some cases at just a few days’ notice, and who must be very disappointed. Given also that the Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery operations were so different from the mainstream industry, it’s difficult, unfortunately, to see a like-for-like alternative for the affected passengers.

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It was announced this morning that All Leisure Group has ceased trading, taking with it Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery. Some passengers are still being brought back from Malaysia – I think Voyager’s last cruise finished today – but there are no new passengers en-route to join the ships. Here’s a link to a post in Travel Weekly giving more details.

One of the most disturbing points in that Travel Weekly is this: “Approximately a third of the future bookings are UK departing cruises that are financially protected by Abta“. What does this mean for the approximately two-thirds of bookings that apparently aren’t protected by Abta?

Finally, it seems that All Leisure Group’s other brands are safe. They include names such as Travelsphere and Just You, both of which were acquired by “G Adventures” earlier this week. This seems to be an American company dedicated to adventure travel, with a UK subsidiary. I’m not sure how that fits with Travelsphere, for example, but at least Travelsphere and Just You have a new home. Finally, the Travel Weekly article says that Hebridean Islands Cruises was “sold to a consortium of trade buyers before Christmas”. I have no real idea what that means!

This is a sad day for the UK cruise industry. Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery were distinctive and provided a very different product in an era of increasing lavish, homogenised cruise product. Their disappearance is a shame.

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Further very minor update, 3 January 18:00: I haven’t heard anything much today, and specifically nothing about the Sea Chefs staff meeting in Malaysia. However there is a story that meetings are being held at All Leisure Group head office, and that we may know more in a couple of days or so. But the official position is now that only the two current cruises have been cancelled.

A couple of updates to yesterday’s post about the cancelation of voyages on Minerva and Voyager.

First, I said that customers of Travelsphere, another All Leisure Group company, had received letters telling them that their holidays would be provided by Page & Moy. On doing a bit of further checking I have learned that Page & Moy is also part of the All Leisure Group! – formerly independent, they were taken over by All Leisure in 2012. So it actually looks as if existing customer bookings with one part of All Leisure (Travelsphere) are being transferred to another part of the same group (Page & Moy). One reason for this might be that All Leisure is about to be broken up, and Page & Moy has been chosen as the identity for a spin-off section. But this is all speculation.

I’ve also heard that hotel staff on Voyager, who are employed by Sea Chefs, will be having a meeting with some of Sea Chefs’ head office staff – they’re flying out to Asia to do this (Voyager is due to sail form Malaysia on the 4th). That meeting may happen today. Sea Chefs also provide the hotel staff (kitchen and accommodation workers) for Minerva so something similar may be happening on that ship as well. Sea Chefs is a well-known and reputable company providing hotel staff for a number of smaller ocean cruise lines including the well-known German companies Phoenix Reisen and Hapag-Lloyd, as well as a number of river cruise companies. Apparently they directly employ over 6000 staff.

I’ll post more updates as and when – or if – I hear anything.

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There are various stories swirling around about the problems that these two lines seems to be experiencing. Both were due to embark passengers on cruises in the next few days – Swan Hellenic (SH) on 3 January from Marseilles, and Voyages of Discovery (VoD) on 4 January from Malaysia – but both cruises have been cancelled and passengers informed. In both cases “operational reasons” are stated as being the cause of the cancellations. There are also reports from passengers booked on subsequent cruises that these, too, have been cancelled. Finally, there are rumours that the two lines may be going out of business, with some sketchy reports of possible buyers for at least one of the ships being shown over it.

The ships themselves seem to be sailing without problems – as I write this SH’s Minerva is en route from Barcelona to Marseilles – so that’s not the “operational reason” involved. Indeed, given that these are two different ships on different sides of the earth, it was always unlikely that technical problems with the ships were the “operational reasons”. However there are connections between the two lines in that they are both owned by, or are part of, the All Leisure Group (ALG).

ALG own other holiday and cruise companies, including Travelsphere and Hebridean Island Cruises. There are reports from customers of Travelsphere that they have received a letter advising them of changes to their forthcoming holidays in that the holidays will now be provided by Page & Moy, a different company altogether. As a result of all these developments it is being suggested that All Leisure Group may simply be going out of business, with some parts of the company being transferred to new owners and other parts not being transferred. But at the moment this is all speculation – all we know for certain is that the new year cruises for SH and VoD have been cancelled.

When I’ve been looking for cruises to book for ourselves I’ve looked at both of these lines and they did look attractive, in terms of the itinerary. However I also felt there were downsides. The two ships – Minerva (SH) and Voyager (VoD) – are both very small, at 12,321 tons for Minerva and 15,271 tons for Voyager. Additionally, I had read reviews that suggested that the on-board quality wasn’t great – that the all-inclusive nature of the cruises was achieved with lowest-common-denominator selections of beers and wines, for example; that cabins were very small; and that (being small) there was a lot of movement while at sea. These rather negative reports, along with the rather high prices, were why I never booked with either of these lines. That said, I also read glowing reviews from  other passengers, especially about the itineraries, shore-side activities, and the on-board lecture programmes.

At one time it looked as if Swan Hellenic was carving a very respectable niche for itself. In 2003 the original (and current) Minerva was replaced by a different ship, imaginatively called ‘Minerva II’. This was in fact one of the R ships, and at that time most were still tied up at various ports following the collapse in late 2001 of Renaissance Cruises who had had them built. At 30,000 tons with (almost) all-balcony accommodation there were and remain exceptional ships. Indeed, they were so exceptional that SH lost Minerva II! At that time the line was owned by P&O and was thus ultimately a part of the Carnival empire. In 2007 Carnival Corp could see a better use for Minerva II and it was transferred to Princess Cruises as Royal Princess. She didn’t last long with Princess, however – in 2011 she was further transferred to P&O and has since borne the name ‘Adonia’. Unfortunately for Swan Hellenic, the transfer to Princess of Minerva II left them without a ship, and the line closed down. It was re-created by Lord Sterling in 2007, and voyages recommenced in 2008 with the previous ship, Minerva. Somewhere during this period the line was acquired by All Leisure Group, which brings us up to today.

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