An Expert View with…

ELLIE FULCHER

SALES MANAGER GROUP & SPECIALIST, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Have group cruising expectations changed and how have you met these needs?

Our Group Sales department is still relatively new, set up in late 2009 to meet the growing demand from our group guests. I would say, based on feedback, that – as well as GTOs being price conscious – the overriding factor seems to be the need for an efficient and reliable service, to ensure that we make the group promotion a tailor-made, seamless service from start to finish. Being a small, close-knit team, we are able to offer a high level of personal service, which enables us to develop excellent working relationships with GTOs, resulting in us gaining some very loyal – and repeat – customers. In terms of groups’ expectations of cruising over the years, I do feel that there has been a shift in people’s overall perceptions of cruising, as it used to be seen as too expensive, class-orientated or only for old people. These days, there are so many different cruise products available for everyone of all ages, offering cruising for all budgets and tastes, including different sizes and styles of ships, more convenient UK departure ports, cruising for families, adults-only cruise ships, ships that offer traditional cruising and others that offer a more informal style. It is important for anyone working in cruise to educate their customers on the different types of products available and to match the right cruise line, itinerary, ship and price to the right guest. There is a cruise out there for everyone

What are the key considerations when working with GTOs organising cruises?

The cruise ship is your ‘floating hotel’, offering a different destination every day, enabling those onboard to visit multiple destinations in one holiday. As cruise ships are larger than most UK hotels, we are in a position to offer groups more accommodation and a higher ratio of rooms for solo travellers than perhaps they may be able to obtain from a hotel, where single rooms may be limited. Fred. Olsen works with a preferred travel insurance provider and a group discount is available to guests for the comprehensive travel insurance that is mandatory on cruises. As well as international trips, Fred. Olsen has a selection of cruises available sailing ‘Around the UK’ where no passport is required, and these have been popular for groups. We have specially-adapted rooms for disabled guests and we work with a preferred coach provider, who provides coach transfers to and from the port. As we recognise that nearly all groups book very early and as far ahead as possible, for all bookings made outside of 90 days prior to departure, we only need a small deposit of 15% to confirm a booking, which gives your group plenty of time to save for their holiday, as balance payments are not due until 90 days prior to departure.

Do you find that groups are keen to stay with the same supplier?

We realise that some of our groups have travelled with other cruise lines before, and will try other cruise lines in the future. However, most of the groups that we deal with tend to meet our typical demographic, which is primarily the retirement market, looking for traditional British cruising on smaller ships sailing out of the UK, to more interesting and remote ports worldwide, at an affordable price. From research and comments we have received from our customers, we do know that they are not looking for large superliners, and the destination and itinerary is the number one ‘deciding factor’ when choosing to buy a cruise holiday from us. I genuinely believe that, when a group finds a cruise line that they like, and the GTO is happy with the service, that they tend to remain loyal to a particular company for many years. We have seen evidence of this, as some of our GTOs are now on their fifth consecutive group cruise with us.

What would you say to a group who has not been cruising before to persuade them to give it a try?

We deal with many ‘new-to-cruise’ groups, and I am pretty confident if anyone decides to cruise, they will never look back, and will have a very happy group on their hands. The world of cruising is very different to booking a UK holiday and the main reasons I would recommend a group cruising holiday include the fact that cruising is a very safe and comfortable way to see the world, especially for older guests who may be less mobile and may find flying or getting in and out of multiple coaches and hotels more difficult. We change our itineraries every year and cruising represents exceptional value for money compared to a land-based holiday; when you break down the ‘per night’ cost, the cruise fare is very reasonable and offers many more value inclusions than a land-based holiday, with accommodation, all meals and snacks, tea and coffee, entertainment, activities, leisure facilities, porters and port taxes. We pride ourselves on our tailor-made group sales service, offering our GTO customers a wide range of group benefits and services, including group transport to and from the ship and free group escort places. We have recently seen a growing trend towards larger groups requesting private group shore tours with us, especially in countries where visas are required, as we cover these under our blanket group visas. And we will assist groups with their promotional materials and events.

Ellie Fulcher studied at Suffolk College and gained a BTEC National Diploma in Travel & Tourism Business Studies. From then on, her career has been involved with travel and specifically with cruising since 1996, when she first started in the Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines (FOCL) Reservations team.  She then left to travel around Australia and South East Asia. Ellie then worked for the Carnival Corporation in both London and Sydney in various sales roles from 1999 to 2006, when she returned to FOCL, first in the Field Sales Team for the South, in the Media Promotions Department, and then moving to Group Sales in 2009.