The line’s new head of sales is back at the company where he was once an on board reception manager. Harry Kemble reports.

Geoff Ridgeon is no stranger to Fred Olsen Cruise Lines. He spent eight years of his early career with the company, including an onboard role as reception manager, before stints at Star Clippers, GoCruise and Fred Olsen Travel.

Fourteen years later, Ridgeon is back as Fred Olsen Cruise Lines’ head of sales, a role he started three months ago.

It’s fair to say the line is still going through a period of change. Earlier this year, the Suffolk-based operator waved fond goodbyes to two long-serving team members: former sales and marketing director Justin Stanton, and Ridgeon’s predecessor, Mike Evans. Managing director Mike Rodwell will be stepping down from his role in August.

Throw Brexit into the mix and Ridgeon has a lot on his plate.

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He and new sales and marketing director, Jackie Martin, started just over two weeks apart. Most recently, Martin was at Butlin’s, where she held the same role, while Ridgeon was head of cruise at agency Fred Olsen Travel for nearly eight years.

“With Justin and Mike moving on, and Jackie and I moving in, it has allowed us to look at the place with a fresh pair of eyes,” he says.

Ridgeon says much time has been spent getting to know the 14-person sales team, understanding its make-up and trying to further strengthen bonds within the office.

Trading challenges

However, scratch beneath the surface and Ridgeon is prepared to admit that Fred Olsen, like other suppliers, has struggled with slow sales this year.

“There is no doubt that it has been a challenging year,” he explains. “We are not quite where we want to be. There have been some challenges in the river market.”

Fred Olsen, he says, has previously been “a tad subtle” about how it has positioned its river product in the market. He says it needs to promote it more, adding: “The challenge is how we bring out our standout product [and add more value].”

A second charter river ship, which the line had been targeting for this current summer season, still hasn’t been confirmed by Fred Olsen, despite plans being outlined back in March. “We are still considering all our options,” Ridgeon says.

Booking incentives

Just over two weeks ago, Fred Olsen offered passengers a free tour package, worth £200, on all 2020 river cruises booked by August 13.

“We have been working to add value rather than just reduce prices,”
he says. “If you reduce prices, it is hard to get the pricing back.

“We are doing good business under the circumstances. It’s a bit of a buyer’s market.”

Drive for simplicity

Ridgeon has asked for feedback from agents about how Fred Olsen can better itself. He was told to make it easier for the trade to sell Fred Olsen by simplifying the functionality.

This has prompted Ridgeon to look at overhauling the trade portal, The Travel Agent Centre. The feedback has also encouraged Ridgeon to start posting 60-second videos of himself on the line’s social media channels. The clips update the trade on the latest promotions and topical news, and attempt to bust some myths about the line.

So, how will Ridgeon approach the next three months? He plans to meet agents on a more formal basis to outline his plans as the line focuses on driving sales towards the end of 2019.

“I am going to use my experience of being in the trade to support the trade,” he says.

“There are not many people that have done what I have done.”