With the launch of P&O Cruises’ new ship Britannia just weeks away, the man who succeeded David Dingle in October gave his first trade interview to Lucy Huxley

As a relative newcomer to the cruise industry, David Noyes may not have led the betting outside Carnival House when it came to likely successors for Carnival UK’s David Dingle.

But speaking to Travel Weekly in his first major interview since becoming chief executive last autumn, Noyes insists that far from being a radical step, his elevation to the role was actually “an orderly transition”.

“The conversation had been going on for quite a while,” he says.

“David [Dingle, now Carnival UK chairman] had signalled that he was looking to move on and my succession as CEO was part of that. But he is still very much here, which is great as he has 35 years’ experience, compared to my three-and-a-half.”

Prior to joining Carnival UK in 2011 as executive vice-president of operations, Noyes had worked in the industry for 25 years, mainly with British Airways, where he was responsible for BA’s worldwide customer services operation, and latterly with Gray Dawes Travel, as chief executive.

Smooth transition

In keeping with the idea of a smooth transition, he insists his appointment should not be seen as signalling a totally new approach or culture at P&O Cruises.

“It’s not a new style. We’re just looking to push on with some of the things that you’re starting to see coming through in 2015 – for P&O Cruises, it’s the repositioning of the brand, spearheaded by our ‘This is the Life’ campaign.”

Noyes points out the arrival of Britannia will boost P&O Cruises’ capacity by a staggering 25%.

“It’s important that we’re reaching out and finding a new audience for P&O,” he says. “We’ve got a very loyal customer base, but if we’re going to attract newcomers to the brand and to cruise, we have to talk to people differently.”

He says his appointment, as well as those of chief commercial officer Gerard Tempest, from the hotel sector, and chief marketing director Christopher Edgington, from the gaming industry, were a deliberate move by Carnival UK to gain fresh views on the business.

“It’s a reflection of cruising becoming a more mainstream holiday,” he adds. “As you look to grow the appeal to a wider audience, you need some experience from outside cruise.”

Value and innovation

“Cruise appears to have been one of the best-kept secrets of the holiday business in terms of the quality of service, the value for money – it’s phenomenal when you think about what’s included – and some of the innovation that’s coming through the sector at the moment is just fantastic.”

Noyes says this is the message P&O Cruises was trying to get across in its turn-of-year television advertising campaign featuring comedian Rob Brydon.

“We’ve done a lot of research into those people who cruise with us and into understanding those people who have similar backgrounds and likes and dislikes, but don’t [cruise with us].

“For someone who’s never cruised, we realised they needed to know what it was all about, what it is they would be getting, how formal it is etc. The advert is deliberately looking to clarify that and prick customers’ interest.

“We used Rob Brydon because he’s well-known, respected, trusted but sets a different tone. He has a bit of an edge.”

Trade partners

Noyes is clear about P&O’s commitment to the trade.

“We absolutely recognise the importance of working in partnership with agents,” he says.

“We are committed to working closely with various trade partners and looking to proactively grow each other’s businesses profitably.

“Distribution never stands still. There are new players coming into the market all the time and where we find an appropriate fit, we’ll look to work with those people.

“Our agents’ business hasn’t changed over the past couple of years but, as cruise becomes more mainstream, we have a future with most of the trade, to be frank. If the cruise industry wants to attract lots of newcomers, 
they are the best people to sell it.”

Asked if he thought the big OTAs such as Expedia or Travel Republic would ever get into selling cruise in a big way, Noyes replies: “For experienced cruisers, you could see how it would be fine for them to book with an OTA like that, but for newcomers, there’s so much about a cruise that’s different from a traditional beach package holiday, that the experienced, knowledgeable agent will play such an important part.”

Britannia launch

In five weeks’ time, P&O will launch the much-heralded, 3,647- berth Britannia in Southampton.

“Britannia is the largest ship ever designed for the British market, and we have a few more things up our sleeves to announce,” says Noyes.

“We are doing something very different with our atrium that you won’t have seen on any other ship before. We are also trying to build on the trends of modern society with things like our Limelight Club, which will involve dining and entertainment, like Ronnie Scott’s.

“One of the big themes of our Agent Matters programme is that our partners get to see and understand the products they’re selling. It’s all about giving them the confidence to sell.”

UK Cruise Awards

Carnival’s UK Cruise Awards featured all Carnival Corporation brands for the first time. Previously, it was only for P&O Cruises, Cunard and Princess Cruises.

“One of the things that Carnival Corporation CEO Arnold Donald talks about is the three Cs – communicate, co-ordinate and collaborate,” says Noyes.

“His whole belief system is that the group is a collection of strong brands; they need to keep their independence but, where appropriate, things like these awards are an example of where we can work together.”

Cunard’s 175th

Noyes says 2015 is not only about the launch of Britannia but is also Cunard’s 175th birthday.

“We have various celebrations. Two of our iconic ships will be in Sydney at the same time, then all three Queens will be in Southampton on May 3, and then in Liverpool on May 25 which is the spiritual home of Cunard. It’s going to be quite spectacular, and will be followed by a reconstruction of the original transatlantic sailing, which will depart from Southampton on July 4, sail up to Liverpool, then across to Halifax and Boston.”

Noyes says Cunard is looking to develop its itineraries around its international markets, and is tailoring its entertainment and Insights programme to different nationalities.

Market potential

Noyes is confident the UK cruise market will get bigger.

“I don’t see a reason why the market shouldn’t grow in line with new capacity, especially if we can get more people to appreciate the great value for money of a cruise, with great service and factors like not having to fly,” says Noyes.

Asked if he is worried about launching Britannia so close to Royal Caribbean’s launch of Anthem of the Seas, also to be based in Southampton, Noyes says: “Royals’ proposition is very different to ours so, in one sense, having not just us but also another ship launching will encourage newcomers to consider a cruise, which is positive for the industry as a whole.

“But we think we have a strong proposition. Britannia is purpose-built for the British. Everything about it has been tailored to UK tastes, which is going to really make it stand out.”