With new ships coming and client confidence growing, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines boss Peter Deer tells Tom Parry why the tide could soon be turning for the line and the industry.
Following a recent wave of varying opinions from government ministers over when (or even if) Brits should be booking holidays this year, you’d forgive any cruise boss for being frustrated.
But despite the storm of sound bites, Fred Olsen Cruise Lines managing director Peter Deer is upbeat and believes a sea change may soon be on its way.
“There has been quite a lot of negativity by ministers but I think that’s starting to change,” he tells TTG, a week after the government unveiled its Covid roadmap – promising to lift restrictions based on “data not dates”.
Deer is supportive of the “more structured” approach laid out by the government as well as Westminster’s cooperation with the cruise sector, and the industry itself pulling together during the crisis, which he says has helped ministers to “believe in our plans because we’re all on the same page”.
He holds hopes of a July return to sailing should UK Covid figures continue to decline, and Fred Olsen customers seemingly share his optimism. [Deer was speaking to TTG before the DfT confirmed a 17 May restart for domestic cruising].
“People are believing there’s a good chance of getting sailing either this summer or later this year and they’re booking on the back of it.”
In the week following the PM’s announcement outlining the post-Covid roadmap, Fred Olsen saw sales “improve significantly”, with around a 40% week-on-week boost and new bookings coming in for the summer.
Deer says “by far the majority” of customers are opting to reschedule rather than request a refund, while those traditionally booking cheaper cruises have decided to upgrade to longer voyages or higher-value cabins.
This turning tide bodes well for a line that boosted its capacity in September after acquiring Holland America Line’s Amsterdam and Rotterdam – set to soon be launched as Bolette and Borealis.
And it feels to TTG as if the new ships have helped re-energise the business after a difficult chapter in its history.
The line cut a third of its Ipswich-based head office team in August, having to say goodbye to many long-serving and loyal staff. Deer, who first joined Fred Olsen in 1993, took over as managing director in August 2019 and has spent much of his time at the helm battling with the impact of Covid.
He says the restructure was a “challenging and emotional period” across the company. “We had to do it and become leaner to get us through,” he adds, describing how a handful of employees have already been able to rejoin as business improves.