On The Deck: Alan Murray
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Last year Voyages of Discovery, owned by the All Leisure Group, launched the mv Voyager – the vessel is confirmation of the direction in which the line is going. And that direction is certainly forward. The company has become renowned for its high quality, guest speaker line-ups that are designed to enrich longer, roaming itineraries suited to its specific model. That being that no cruise is repeated within the same season. It’s a model that has become very popular with a very loyal customer base. We spoke to Alan Murray, managing director of Voyages of Discovery to find out more.
How did you come to head Voyages of Discovery?
When I joined Voyages of Discovery I had zero experience in the cruise industry, apart from selling airplanes to them. I was the managing director of First Aviation and a director of Monarch Group. It’s not hugely dissimilar – you are with your customers for far longer than on an airplane though and that allows you to get a huge amount more feedback whereas the feedback with airlines is usually done by people voting with their feet.
How important is customer feedback?
It’s hugely important and because of the price point we’re selling at, people do give a lot of feedback. They’re sharp on telling you things they like and don’t like. It’s hugely rewarding and is one of the reasons for our success. Our customers are happy to engage with our staff and tell us everything they like and all of the times they’ve been with you and the experiences they’ve had over the years. It’s fascinating. We do very well in feedback too, on one of our recent cruises 90% of our passengers said they’d recommend us.
Where do you sit within the market?
In terms of customers, it’s very much in the small ship, niche cruising sector. It’s a more cerebral proposition with a high quality guest speaker programme which is designed to enhance the cruise experience and bring the destination to life. We try to take our passengers to a number of hidden gem destinations and perhaps avoid the bigger ships. It’s not always easy! But we will always try and do that.
What’s your typical customer?
A mid to late 50s, older professional looking for a relaxing yet enriching experience. While they enjoy the cruising aspect they are particularly interested in the enrichment programme –from a cerebral perspective rather than a resort at sea. One way I look at it is if you look at Swann Hellenic you might get lords and ladies while we normally get retired headmasters, professionals and professors.
You also typically do longer itineraries...
Generally speaking we do longer cruises; we’re not a short sector cruise company. We do a couple of 10-nighters for ex-UK departures though but they do tend to be longer because we’re going to more ports.
What are your typical itineraries?
We don’t do circuits – that’s pretty much the main rule. This year we’ll be circumnavigating South America for instance. Our Christmas cruise went from Barbados to Montego Bay – taking in lots of islands – but the following one will leave Montego Bay and go all the way to Ecuador. We very rarely repeat the same destination on a cruise.
So you try to make each cruise individual?
Every single cruise we do is unique to that season. That, and our guest speaker programme, are our main USPs. Even if we do the same journey – for instance we do more than one cruise around the UK, there’s a British Isles cruise, Celtic Treasures and Heritage of the British Isles voyages – they all call at different places apart from a stop at Guernsey. They’re pitched at different people who want different experiences.
If an agent was to ask you why they should sell Voyages of Discovery cruise what would you say to convince them?
Two things, number one is that we’re not priced at the bottom end of the market so the commission earning potential is good. We certainly support the trade and haven’t done any commission cuts and neither is it our intention to do so. I know we’re a difficult sell because it’s a niche but guests don’t have to sit in the guest speaker programme if they don’t wish to. It is specialist though and agents need to reflect that in their knowledge. If clients want to cruise anywhere around the med or ex-UK then we’re probably not the right cruise line for them but for serial cruisers we probably are correct.
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