On The Deck: Neil Barclay head of sales for Viking River Cruises

Neil Barclay

The news that Viking River Cruises last week broke its own record for the amount of ships launched in one go was headline material. It’s not everyday that a line christens 10 ships in one day – although two had already been sailing so couldn’t be included in the record. It’s obvious that the line is doing something right. Especially when you consider the fact that last the line launched six in 2012. We caught up with Neil Barclay, head of sales for Viking, to find out about the operator’s success.

Can you explain your role and what that entails?

I’m head of sales so I look after all trade activity and trade relations. That’s as well as the call centre, so both direct and trade. My background is in trade; I worked for Hurtigruten for seven years. There are a lot of similarities between the customer bases and we see a lot of movement between the two brands. Often it’s a passenger that isn’t interested in taking a big ocean cruise and wants a different experience instead.

 

How have the last 12 months been for Viking? 

Exceptional. If I’m honest, those who try and get availability now will struggle to get onboard before the end of September or even October. It’s been very busy. We’re also finding that it’s the high-grade cabins that are selling first too. And generally speaking the lower specs tend to sell out last.

 

That’s a strong position to be in then? 

Absolutely. It’s the long ships we’ve bought in that have completely blown the rest of the market out of the water. They’re like a boutique hotel. We don’t market ourselves as a five star company; we say we’re a four star plus that under promises and over delivers.

 

Overall Viking launched six ships last year and 10 in 2013. That’s a huge increase…

We’re going to have 42 ships sailing in 2013. We’re supplying demand, which right now we’re unable to do. We couldn’t fulfil all of our customer requests because we didn’t have enough capacity. That’s why we’ve made the investment and got these new vessels on the water.

 

Who are your competitors?

In terms of river cruising it’s Uniworld, AmaWaterways, APT, Noble Caledonia and those types of brands.

 

How do you distinguish yourself from them?

The main difference is that we own and operate all of our own ships. Most river cruise companies will lease their ships and lease their crew. However, because it’s Viking ships and Viking staff we have he edge when it comes to the ground operation and experience. We manage everything and we don’t go through a leasing company. That makes a huge difference when you’re on the product. We have an office in every destination we visit too. So if there’s a problem we can be there immediately.

What’s included on a Viking cruise?

It’s return flights, transfers, full board, alcohol at dinner, daily excursions, onboard enrichment, 24-hour coffee station. Gratuities aren’t included because we want people to tip the amount they think they should. That and drinks outside meal times.  We also offer regional flight supplements from a majority of airports so agents who are in Scotland, Newcastle etc won’t pay more.

How agent friendly is Viking?

Very. We’ve got Andrew who’s always on the road, are members of BRIGHT (Bringing Real Information and Guaranteed High Quality Training)which communicates our training to agents. In that there are 14 operators that help us get our message across to the trade. There’s a portal and online training platform too.

What advice would you give to agents that want to get involved with Viking?

The first thing is to give us a call and see how we can help. We’ll do 50/50 marketing, an in-store day and help them look at groups in the area and who will be interested in going on a river cruise. It’s also teaching someone to mention river cruising as an option when they’re on the phone to their customers. It needs to be offered as an alternative.

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