Ambassador Cruise Line’s independent trust model meant agents’ commission was protected when the cruise line was forced to cancel the initial two weeks of sailings for its first ship, Ambience.
Last month, the maiden voyage to Hamburg, originally planned for April 6, was re-scheduled to depart on April 20, and the first two sailings to the Norwegian fjords were cancelled, as the war in Ukraine took its toll on a supply chain that was already seeing problems.
Phil Gardner, chief commercial officer at Ambassador, told a Travel Weekly webcast that the company’s trust model protected agents’ commission payments and meant customer refunds were arranged swiftly.
The cruise line was established by bosses from Cruise & Maritime Voyages (CMV) which went into administration in July 2021, leaving some agents out of pocket.
The line is backed by London-based private equity firm Njord Partners LLP, with travel industry veteran Gordon Wilson as chairman and Christian Verhounig as chief executive.
Gardner said Ambassador’s management structure has enabled quick decision-making and trade-friendly policies.
He has more than 20 years of industry experience, having worked for Thomas Cook and the relaunched online agency thomascook.com.
“It’s so refreshing for someone like myself, who’s come out of quite a big, corporate structure with large scale, to be able to sit in a room, agree some principles, agree a policy, make a decision, leave a room and get on with it,” he told the webcast.
“It’s what I hoped it would be. And it’s made things really straightforward.”
He said the cancellations were disappointing but he pointed out that the delay was only two weeks and most of the affected passengers have been retained.
“We’re delighted to be able to do it with only a two-week delay; there are many others that will have to suffer far worse than that,” he said.
“One thing which I’m actually really pleased about is that the programme change we orchestrated over that two-week delay has been one of the most successful ones I’ve ever been involved in.
“We’ve had a fantastic bit of feedback from our guests. Obviously, we can’t satisfy everybody.
“Unfortunately, there are date changes, some people can’t work with that, but we’ve retained the vast majority of all of our guests that were due to sail with us.
“Some have moved cruises, some have transferred to alternative sailings, some have gone along with the date change.
“It comes back to what I was saying earlier about being able to make quick decisions.
“It was a five-second conversation to say we had to protect agent commission, we made that decision really early on.
“It’s not to say everything was perfect…but if I look at what we’ve achieved overall, and the amount of retention we’ve had, I think we can look quite favourably on making the best of a bad situation.”
Furthermore, the trust model was tested quickly and meant refunds could be made within 14 days, he explained.
“We’ve had a scenario where we’ve been able to create a connection between our merchant and the trust, which means that we’re able to turn around that refund particularly quickly,” he said.
“That even allows us time to be able to communicate back to trade partners, because clearly, if a guest decides they want to cancel, they don’t always have sight of what the alternatives to that are.”
He said about half of the bookings on the cancelled sailings were made via the trade, while the proportion of trade sales for the overall programme is “well over” 50%.
Gardner also outlined how the trade support team will expand alongside the growth of the cruise line – and he hailed the contact centre wait times as one of the company’s best selling points for consumers and agents.
“Even through the programme change, the wait times are consistently below one or two minutes on average,” he said.
“I’ve come from environments where there are waiting times of hours, in big-scale businesses.
“All of these things are going to help us to make sure that not only are we providing a great product, but we’ve got a great service to go with it.”
The cruise line will hold an event for the trade in Tilbury on Tuesday (April 19) ahead of its rescheduled inaugural.