Interview: Priti Mehta
Oceania Cruises’ UK and Ireland head of sales talks to Aspire about how valuable the trade is to the line and shares her advice for those who want to sell more luxury cruises.
Fresh from its refurbishment of Sirena, luxury line Oceania Cruises has even more reason to trumpet its appeal to the trade. Here, Priti Mehta explains its appeal and offers selling tips for agents.
Why is the trade important to Oceania cruises?
The travel trade is invaluable and accounts for the vast majority of our business. We have built some very strong partnerships over the years, helping us promote and sell our product. We are eager to continue building on these working relationships and also expanding our distribution by creating new relationships.
What makes Oceania Cruises different?
There are several cornerstones of the Oceania Cruises experience that make us stand out, including comfort, service and value. However, having the ‘Finest Cuisine at Sea’ is clearly the unique selling point for the line. Legendary master chef Jacques Pépin is our executive culinary director, and is the driving force behind the epicurean delights on board in restaurants such as Toscana (authentic Italian), Polo Grill (classic steakhouse), Red Ginger (bold Asian cuisine) and Jacques (French bistro). Destination is also very important and a big selling point for our guests. We cruise to more than 365 ports around the world with a fleet of six small to mid-sized ships.
You recently launched Sirena after a near-$50m refurbishment. how has the ship been received and what are the highlights?
Those who know her R-Class sister ships, Nautica, Insignia and Regatta, are excited to have her join the Oceania Cruises family. There is a lot of publicity surrounding new tonnage, as ships generally get bigger, so it has been a positive message to see a cruise line still investing in smaller ships. She carries 684 guests and the refurbishment has styled her similarly to her sisters - why change a winning formula? There have been some changes though, notably with the introduction of two dining venues: Tuscan Steak, a collaboration of Polo Grill and Toscana restaurants from our other ships, and the now-famous Red Ginger, previously only available on Marina and Riviera. Sirena is now spending her maiden season sailing the eastern and western Mediterranean before crossing the Atlantic on a journey which will see her sail through the Americas via New York, Miami, the Panama Canal and Los Angeles, and eventually to the South Pacific Islands. She will then circumnavigate Australia before sailing through Asia to the Med.
You recently announced your 2017-18 voyage collections, are there any stand-out destinations and experiences?
Our 2017-18 Voyage Collection is very exciting, with 172 itineraries visiting over 365 ports of call all over the world. There is increased product out of New York, taking in New England, Canada or Bermuda on Insignia. And there are also some great options for UK guests who prefer not to fly with round-trip Southampton cruises on Nautica and Marina to Iceland, Greenland and Norway. Plus, both ships are doing variations of a fantastic British Isles itinerary. Asian itineraries are another highlight and include destinations in China, Japan and India with embarkation and disembarkation in Mumbai. Many of the Asian itineraries now come with a free three-night pre or post-cruise land tour, allowing for deeper exploration of some of the world’s greatest wonders.
Who is the typical Oceania Cruises customer?
Oceania attracts well-travelled guests who are active in body and mind. They like to discover and love to learn, and with Oceania Cruises they can really get to know a destination through some truly exceptional shore excursions. In fact, we have just announced some new Culinary Discovery Tours to provide guests with the opportunity to experience first-hand the cultures of the world through their cuisine. The programme has grown year-after-year and for the upcoming Mediterranean season on Riviera and Marina, Oceania Cruises will offer these exclusive Culinary Discovery Tours at 26 carefully selected destinations across Europe.
What tips can you give for selling luxury cruising?
Absolutely key is understanding the customer’s needs and what they are looking for. You need to make sure you match the right customer to the right luxury line, taking into consideration itinerary, experience, dining and service. What does luxury actually mean to them, as it can mean different things to different customers? For example, is flexibility an important luxury? Is it important for customers to have the freedom to dine when they want to, with no additional costs for a speciality restaurant?
What do you like about cruising? And have you always been a fan?I just love the freedom it can deliver: the opportunity to visit several remote destinations without the need to live at airports and hotels; the chance to see more than just a resort within a country; and the ability to explore at your own pace. It all creates a truly liberating holiday.
Do you think agents understand the differences between the high‑end cruise lines?
I think travel agents understand the differences very well; however, the more competitive the market becomes, the more difficult it will be to differentiate between them. As long as you know cruise lines’ USPs and your customers’ needs, you will successfully sell high-end cruise. If there is any doubt, I urge agents to get in contact with cruise lines to see what they offer from an educational and training perspective.
If you’re not on a ship, what kind of holidays do you enjoy?
I love the great outdoors and cannot get enough of wildlife and nature. Luckily for me there are plenty of cruise destinations that cater for this. Alaska, anyone?
What does the future hold for high-end cruising?
It will continue to grow as customers look for different experiences – and the demand is certainly. High-end cruising offers incredible value, with the added bonus of seeing so many destinations, and generally offers more tailor-made options with exciting pre/post cr