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Cruise boss tells all

Planning one’s calendar can be difficult – juggling personal, work and family commitments – so when it comes to putting together six different seasons for a fleet of ships cruising around the world, how does it all work?

How does one choose between The Caribbean or the Sea of Cortez; St Petersburg or Visby; and Busselton or Broome? And in an ever-growing cruise industry, how does a cruise line secure a berth at the time they need it, especially in the busiest ports around the world?

Chris Coates, group commercial director for Cruise & Maritime Voyages, explains the science behind creating a compelling cruise season that entices travellers, and the logistics involved.

Where to start?
“The first thing we look at is the cruise program from the previous year and any adjustments we need to make depending on supply and demand,” says Mr Coates.

“We look at which international markets we should penetrate or grow, the size of each and which deployments are going to offer the best return. We investigate booking trends and the cruises that have strong demand at certain times of the year. 

“Our Marco Polo Arctic & Greenland Expedition, which departs in late June and early July, is one of our first cruises to sell. These are incredible journeys that take a lot of planning – because of the ice, we only have a small window of opportunity to go there.”

When looking at a fresh program, Cruise & Maritime Voyages considers feedback from trade partners via its business development managers; its marketing team’s ‘wish list’; as well as liaising with its most loyal customers, some of whom have sailed upwards of 500 nights.

‘Headline’ destinations and itineraries
“We’re always looking for some new headline destinations when we launch a program, including new ports of call or a new itinerary,” says Mr Coates.

“One example is the Hidden Baltic Treasures itinerary we introduced in 2018. We go to the Baltic cities and capitals every year and many of our guests were saying they didn’t need to visit St Petersburg again. As a result, we created an itinerary that incorporates smaller destinations such as Visby in the Swedish island of Gotland, and Ronne in Bornholm (Denmark). We’re seeing more repeat business, so we need to continually look at fresh ideas in our programming.” 

The tricky part
Mr Coates says that after brainstorming and consultation, the Itinerary Planning team begins shaping the program, considering how many cruises should be operated in the season, the duration of each, and how many of each of its hallmark cruises to run such as round-Britain, Baltic and Bali voyages.

“We put the itineraries together in the UK with our software, which assists with calculations, but then the marine team do all the double checking. This includes senior officers such as captains who know from experience if we may need longer to leave a particular port because of the manoeuvre time from the pier until the pilot comes off the ship.

“After we have the final draft itinerary, we go through port agents and the ports of call to check availability. For our popular ‘marquee’ ports, we tend to check their availability very early – sometimes even before we go to the port agents – especially for the turnaround (homeport) calls in the UK or Australia such as Adelaide and Fremantle. We need to ensure they’re available because that affects the entire itinerary,” Mr Coates says. 

How far in advance does cruise season planning take place?
According to Mr Coates, two years in advance is the ideal time to begin the process.

“Many ports are experiencing heavier demand and the size of the new-build global order book is incredible; around 100 ships are currently being built and will be introduced into the global fleet in the next five years.

“When we first start checking port availability, a degree of adjustment is always required – sometimes it’s not possible to have the sequence you want. It’s not quite so problematic in Australia but in Northern Europe it becomes far more challenging.

“In Norway you have so much choice with so many fjords. And it’s the same for round-Britain cruises – there’s a lot of choice so there’s a degree of flexibility.

“Our ships that are of small to medium size provide far more flexibility in itinerary planning as we can target more inaccessible ports. This enables us to provide special itineraries for our guests as we can choose from more ports and dock at them (as opposed to using a tender).

“From the perspective of an authentic cultural experience, we have relatively small guest numbers visiting destinations so they can better immerse themselves in the local ways of life.

“One of the greatest challenges we face in itinerary planning is if we’re late in our planning, we can have difficulty finding availability in the ‘A-list’ ports we want to visit. That’s less of an issue in Australasia with the exception of Auckland – all the cruise vessels seem to be there in the middle of February!”

What role do shore excursions/tours play in the planning process?
Shore excursions or tours are integral to Cruise & Maritime Voyages’ itinerary planning in terms of the potential for a variety of experiences.

“Again, our small to medium ships provide us with an advantage, in this case turnaround times,” says Mr Coates. “For example, in the Norwegian fjords where we make a lot of anchorage calls and need to use tenders, we can be there for a half day and have our guests disembark, go on a tour and return to the ship, while the guests on the big ship alongside us may still be just disembarking.”

More information on the growth of Cruise & Maritime Voyages
“We established Cruise & Maritime Voyages in 2009 and have evolved fairly quickly as a company,” says Mr Coates.

“We’ve introduced three new ships since 2015; first Magellan, followed by our flagship Columbus and now Vasco da Gama. That’s been a very carefully-planned expansion and development linked to what we have planned – we know we’ll get the growth we need.

“We conduct a lot of extensive research about where we think the individual markets need to go, but we do take a holistic approach in terms of itinerary planning. It’s been a fairly ambitious growth strategy, but we know there’s huge potential for our style of cruising,” Mr Coates said.

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