Cruising as we know it might be stuck in the doldrums but that won’t stop it going ‘from strength to strength’ in the next few years, says the pioneer behind new agency Panache Cruises.
In a video call this morning, James Cole said: ‘When you set up a new business it’s not about the next three or six months, it’s about what’s going to happen in the next ten or 20 years.
‘Cruising is going to go from strength to strength. The cruise industry is exceptionally robust, it’s hugely innovative – arguably the most innovative sector – so I have absolute faith that the cruise lines will get through this, even if it takes a couple of years to get back to the sales levels we saw in 2019.
‘We are launching in very difficult times, I am aware that a lot of people have lost their jobs and more people, unfortunately, will lose their jobs but one of the reasons I have taken the decision to launch Panache Cruises now is there’s an abundance of talent out there that are looking for work and we’ve been able to recruit some exceptionally talented people who, in different times, we might not have had access to.’
Setting sail: James Cole (left) and Duncan James from Blue
Cole has had 23 years experience of the cruise industry, including setting up Cruise118 and SixStar Cruises. During his career he’s weathered previous crises such as 9/11 and the global financial crash.
Panache Cruises, based in Bolton, Lancashire, will launch on Monday with a team of 15 but aims to employ more than 100 and become the UK’s leading distributor of luxury cruises in the UK by 2025.
But Cole is keen to stress that all customers will get the ‘personal touch’ – including his own email address and phone number – and will be looked after from the moment they leave for their cruise till the moment they come back.
Joining Panache Cruises as a celebrity ambassador is Duncan James from the boy band Blue. He said: ‘I am hugely enthusiastic about this new role and can’t wait to get started. I love travelling and have a particular love of cruising, with Alaska and river cruises being amongst my favourites. Not only do I want to help James establish Panache Cruises, but I want to use my influence to regain trust and confidence in cruising, generally.’
The singer will carry out live webinars talking about his favourite cruises and participate in live Q&As with customers. He will also feature across all of the company’s websites, blog posts and other marketing materials and will sail on itineraries to experience the product, giving his thoughts during the voyage, through interviews with crew and passengers.
Panache Cruises will be split into four categories, covering 7,000 itineraries and more than 1,000 ports of call:
- Elite ocean lines such as Regent Seven Seas, Silversea, Oceania, Azamara, Crystal and Seabourn
- River cruises on Uniworld, Scenic and Emerald Waterways, as well as lines such as Riviera and Avalon
- Expedition voyages on lines such as Silversea, Seabourn, Celebrity Flora, Hurtigruten and Aurora
- Yacht-style cruises on SeaDream, Crystal Esprit, Scenic Eclipse and Emerald Azzura
The ‘end to end’ product will ‘take care of everything’, said Cole, starting with transfers to the airport, fast-track security, lounges, shore excursions and dining.
‘We will really look after that person and hand them over to the cruise line to have a perfect cruise experience,’ he added.
Customers’ money will be placed in a special trust fund to allow them to claim any refunds ‘within seven days, if not quicker’.
Cole left the cruise world in 2018 and set up a property business. ‘I genuinely thought I wouldn’t be going back into cruising but I realised I was exceptionally passionate about the product,’ he said.
‘I’ve been on three cruises recently and thoroughly enjoyed them. I just found that cruising was in my blood and the magnetic effect of the cruise and travel industry pulled me back in.’