P&O aims for a swell of holidaymakers

The decks of cruise ships may no longer be dominated by retired people relaxing in the sun, spending their hard-earned savings on the holiday of a lifetime, for P&O Cruises is unveiling a new marketing strategy that will attempt to lure younger holidaymakers aboard its ships.

For industry observers, the shift to targeting a wider market is not only logical, but also one likely to increase P&O’s dominance of the &£1.4bn UK cruise market.

To widen the appeal of cruising, the tour operator will focus on providing cruise “experiences” to different types of customers. P&O will offer three holiday experiences – contemporary, original and traditional.

“Contemporary” is aimed at 40- to 50-year-olds, and will target people who are new to cruising and not quite sure what to expect. Available on the company’s modern Arcadia and Oceana liners, the holidays centre around a relaxed, informal atmosphere. Passengers will be offered workshops in activities from tai chi to interior design, and be entertained by comedians such as Have I Got News for You’s Paul Merton.

The “original”, or “authentic”, experience, planned for the Aurora and Oriana ships, will target 50- to 60-year-olds, and will offer a more typical British cruise.

The third, “traditional”, category, aimed at experienced cruisers aged over 60, will offer what some industry insiders affectionately refer to as the “Miss Marple” experience. Planned for the company’s stately Artemis liner, the traditional cruise will take in far-flung locations such as the Amazon River, with formal, black-tie dining.

P&O Cruises head of brand marketing Philip Price says the strategy is being employed to retain the operator’s core market, while dispelling cruising’s stuffy image. “Rather than have one-size-fits-all cruises on every ship but with different destinations, we’re making the experience a destination in its own right,” he explains.

P&O claims to have a 27 per cent share of the UK cruise market, and is now part of Carnival, the world’s largest cruise operator, which recorded sales of $7.6bn (&£4.2bn) in 2004.

Gary Moss, partner at branding agency Brand Vista, which has been researching ways to reach older consumers, is positive about the strategy: “We’re not all the same shade of grey, and this sounds like a good way of segmenting the market.”

The strategy will be rolled out later this year, backed by a television campaign from incumbent creative agency Miles Calcraft Briginshaw Duffy (MCBD). Planning director Giles Hedger says: “A lot more people are going on cruises, but even if you’re big on them, it doesn’t mean you want the same experience every time. Some will want the formality and the dressing up; others like the idea of a cruise but are put off by formality. Offering choice is a logical step.”

The challenge for MCBD, Hedger adds, will be to ensure that P&O’s brand values of “effortless experience” are stamped on the new holiday packages. He says: “P&O recognises that new people are coming into the market, and it is big enough, confident enough and flexible enough to cope with that.”

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