On The Deck: Chris Coates

Christopher Coates, Commercial Director at Cruises and Maritime Voyages

Chris Coates

For the benefit of those who are not familiar with your company how long has the company been in existence?

Cruise & Maritime Services were originally established back in 1996 specialising in ship charter brokering, onboard entertainment services and general sales agency representation. Following a period between 2001 and 2009 of successful ex-UK cruise programmes representing Classic International Cruises, Louis Cruise Lines and Transocean Tours the Cruise & Maritime Voyages brand and new cruise operation was launched in 2009 as Britain’s newest private owned cruise line.

What can your guest typically expect on a Cruise and Maritime cruise experience? 

Our mainly British guests can expect and very much appreciate a more traditional and leisurely smaller ship ‘country house style’ cruising experience with the emphasis very much on good cuisine, big show entertainment, personal service and going that extra mile. Our ships carry just 800 passengers and given their size, wide range of cosy and well-appointed lounges and cabins, create a special convivial ambience and charm. Our ships are also accessible to many interesting ports of call making our wide choice of itineraries very hard to beat. We also cruise from six different British ports bringing cruising closer to home. These reasons is why 95% of our guests continue to rate their experience with CMV as excellent or good.

You are operating traditional older style small vessels. Given the explosion of ever larger ships loaded with every conceivable guest amenity how does your company manage to compete with the newer and larger vessels?

Cruising and the product has grown and evolved dramatically in the past two decades which has given rise to strong product differentiation. Despite the rapid increase of the mega resort ships and what I have often described as ‘production line cruising’, there is still a strong market segment who simply don’t want the glitz, razzmatazz, noise and queues often associated with these vessels and who still prefer a more genteel style and traditional cruising experience.

How would you describe your typical Cruise & Maritime guest providing average age and demographic?

Our guests are predominantly retired couples with an average age of low to mid sixties. Most of our guests have come from a professional/semi-professional background and enjoy fine cuisine, dressing up for occasions, entertainment, meeting new friends and visiting lots of interesting new places.  Positioning Marco Polo as an adult only product has undoubtedly played a part in the average age not being reduced but our target audience is very much the grey market.

You operate the Marco Polo which for years had a strong global following under a different brand. Has that followed you to Cruise & Maritime?

When Marco Polo was acquired in 2008 we were all delighted that the ship’s famous iconic name was part of the deal. Gerry Herrod, the original owner of Orient Lines who re-built the vessel back in 1993/4 did an amazing job, both in conversation and marketing terms. Today, the ship still enjoys global recognition and will still continue to carry ex-Orient Lines customers. The name has been one of our ‘ace cards’ which has encouraged us to set up a sales office in North America to develop another important English speaking source market.

Agents who do not have good working knowledge of your product what training is available to retail agents wishing to promote your products?

The retail sector is our biggest growing sales distribution avenue and through our expanding agency sales team we offer a comprehensive training programme including ship visits throughout the country and educationals. Following the successful launch of CMV TV which is a great agent selling tool of over 40 web based videos introducing CMV, our ships, the cruise programme and client testimonials, we will shortly also be launching a new on line training module.

Many of the larger cruise lines have started to reduce commissions. Are you likely to follow?

We have no immediate plans to reduce retail agent commissions. We have actually increased average levels this year as part of our commitment to increase retail sales. Why ‘cut-off the hand that feeds you’? Retail price discounting is not a major issue for us at the moment and if a degree of control was required why would there be a need to reduce commission. The only realistic reason to cut commission would be to cut costs.

Does your company handle many international guests or are your guests primarily British?

95% of our guests are British supported by a good Australian contingent together with North American, South African and some Dutch passengers. During these challenging times we have reviewed other source market opportunities culminating in the recent launch of a US sales office based in Florida. In the mid-term, we therefore expect this figure to drop to around 85-87%.

You operate itineraries from some of the smaller less known ports in the UK. Would you consider this to be your strength?

Most definitely. In fact, one of our USPs. The added convenience of residing within two hours of one of our ports is a key element in the decision making process.

Christopher Coates