As P&O Cruises unveils its new agent reward scheme, Carnival UK’s president spoke to Lucy Huxley about trade relations, new ships and attracting new guests

I arrive at Carnival UK’s Southampton offices to find the new president standing up, working at his computer, on a high desk.

It turns out that he hasn’t sat at a desk for four years and I wonder if we will do the entire interview on our feet.

Thankfully, Josh Weinstein, who took over from David Noyes in July after a three-month handover, lets us sit down.

Weinstein, who was born in Brooklyn, New York, joined the cruise giant in 2002 as a company lawyer.

He’d previously been working for the world’s largest mergers and acquisitions law firm and says he took a 40% pay cut to join the travel giant.

“I knew within a week that it was exactly what I had been missing,” he says. “Although I was still working for the same result, and still had clients, there was an end goal, and that was to create a business that gave people unforgettable emotional happiness from amazing holidays.

“I realised I needed this emotional connection. Everything I did fed back to what we as a company could deliver to our customers and that was a great reason to get out of bed in the morning.”

Five years later, Weinstein was asked to become company treasurer. He also took on risk management, global tax and financial planning, and analysis.

Transatlantic move

Last autumn, he was approached about running the UK market – and moved his wife and three children, aged eight, 10 and 13, from Miami to Romsey, Hampshire.

Aside from a Carnival Cruise Lines sailing many years ago and various ship naming ceremonies, Weinstein had never ‘sailed’ on a P&O Cruises or Cunard ship. Since moving to the UK in April, he has sailed on all ships in the two fleets, bar two.

“It crystallised what I already knew: that P&O is absolutely brilliant at being the British home all over the globe for its UK guests,” says Weinstein.

“People love to travel, but most people want to come home to something familiar. It’s the little things that I can see very easily as an American that are important – the food, the TV shows, the comedians and the shows.”

Commenting on Cunard, Weinstein says: “They make guests feel like they have been put on a pedestal. They cater for their every want, need and desire with a unique flair.”

But Weinstein says both brands need to do better with all the capacity coming.

P&O’s new ship enters service in 2020 and will increase the line’s capacity by 25%, while Cunard recently announced plans to build a new ocean liner to enter service in five years’ time.

Weinstein says: “I bring a different perspective to the business. It’s not because I’m American – it’s just because I am new here. People have become comfortable with the way they do things and we need to think about how to reach more newcomers.

“I’m a little more vocal, outspoken, challenging and questioning maybe [than my predecessors].”

He says the best way to attract new-to-cruise customers is via existing guests. “If we do our job correctly, not only will they get off our ships and book again, but they will tell all their friends and family about how great the experience was. So we are going to provide an even better experience – do everything we currently do, better.

“The great thing about this company is that our people want to do better. We use Net Promoter Scores to measure guest satisfaction, and our staff and crew take great pride in their NPS scores and improving them.

“We need people to know we offer the best holiday experience, not just the best cruise experience. As an industry, we suffer from a lack of understanding among non‑cruisers about how great a holiday package we are and the tremendous value we offer.

“But we don’t want to boil things down to price and put price flashes in front of their faces. We can probably do more to communicate the message by appearing on ITV’s Lorraine every day for a week than by focusing on pricing.”

TV tie-ups

Weinstein hinted that another TV tie-up was on the cards next year. P&O has recently joined forces with ITV’s Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway, BBC’s The Apprentice and programmes such as Battlechefs.

For Cunard, he says its forthcoming hosting of the world premiere of the film The Greatest Showman on Queen Mary 2 in New York next month is another way of helping the brand to reach new audiences.

“This will be the first time a world film premiere has been held on a cruise ship,” he says. “We’ll have Hugh Jackman and Zac Efron, plus a host of other A-listers there. We are absolutely looking for opportunities like these that engrain the essence of our brands in other environments and get them talked about.”

New features

Weinstein says it is too early to reveal any details of the new Cunard ship, but says its new P&O vessel will be named by the public.

A plethora of suggestions have already been put forward, but the chosen name will be revealed in the spring, alongside some of the features on board.

Weinstein would not be drawn on exact details but hints: “The new ship will feature something that’s never been seen before at sea. It is something that resonates with everyone. We don’t do gimmicks. It’s not just a hook that doesn’t fit with the rest of the brand, or something to draw people in that then isn’t consistent with the backdrop.

“It’s understated, tasteful – an experience specifically for our British guests that’s enduring throughout their whole holidays.”

Weinstein described Carnival UK’s decision to split its sales team, with one focusing on P&O and one on Cunard, as an “investment” in travel agent partners.

Acknowledging the teams had fluctuated consistently from being combined, then separated, he says: “They are very different brands going after different customer profiles, so they need dedicated teams speaking to agents.

“They need to give better training, give agents better support and create better overall relationships.”

For P&O, he says the line needs to cast its net much wider, while for Cunard the focus needs to be more on the luxury demographic.

“Just because Cunard has a bigger ship profile, we can still offer a luxury experience. Wherever you go on the ship, you get space and freedom – but you can also lose yourself whenever you want to.”

Shine Rewards Club

One way of helping agents understand P&O better is the line’s new Shine Rewards Club programme, which Weinstein says is designed to foster engagement with the brand.

“If they can use their points on their own holidays, and they love the experience, then they will be able to go back and talk about it. We think this is the best approach to get real buy-in to our product, which is why we have made it a personal scheme so every agent in the agency can earn and benefit.”

Weinstein adds: “Agents are still an incredibly important part of our business. We have done a great job in building up these relationships and now we want to show them how much we value them.”