Although the falling cost of living is hitting families, Brits are still keen to spend money on winter getaways, says the boss of P&O Cruises.
Britain’s biggest cruise company has seen passengers flocking back to its ships, while parent company Carnival has revealed bookings are at an “all-time high”.
“People are giving up supermarkets, cars or eating out, but they’re not sacrificing their holidays,” Paul Ludlow, chairman of Carnival UK, told the Mail.
Carnival carried 5.7 million passengers in the first six months of 2023, close to the 6 million that traveled with it in the same period in 2019 and the 5.8 million in 2018 before the pandemic hit.
And the ships are expected to be full for the rest of the year.
All aboard: Paul Ludlow (pictured), chairman of P&O Cruises’ parent company Carnival UK, has been on a mission to get young people on board his ships.
Caribbean cruises are proving particularly popular this winter, Ludlow said, as are Mediterranean excursions.
Meanwhile, the cruise giant continues to raise its prices, with the average P&O voyage costing passengers an average of £120 a night.
A 14-night Caribbean Christmas cruise aboard Britannia starts at £1,499 but can be considerably more expensive depending on cabin and other options.
Despite the stereotypical image of cruise vacationers, Ludlow, 44, is on a mission to attract young people to his ships, investing in “alternative restaurants” such as sushi or vegan food, as well as inventive lounges. Escape on the newest ships. .
Their efforts have seen the average age of cruise passengers drop to 46, having decreased every year for the past decade.
Carnival was founded in Florida in 1972 by businessman Ted Arison, who was also behind Norwegian Cruise Lines. The P&O brand, however, dates back to the 1830s when it was a shipping company.
Since then, Carnival has become an industry giant with 9 distinct brands and more than 90 ships in its fleet, including seven P&O Cruises vessels, sailing to the four corners of the world.
But a major obstacle that is likely to discourage many eco-conscious young people is the industry’s well-documented impact on the environment.
The cruise business is a major global polluter, with studies suggesting that one large ship generates a carbon footprint larger than that of 12,000 cars.
In 2016, Carnival-owned Princess Cruises agreed to pay a £31 million fine in the United States for illegally dumping oil-contaminated waste into the sea and for employee actions to try to cover up the incident.
Three years later, Carnival agreed to pay an additional £16 million for violating parole conditions.
Ludlow said he “always invites conversation” about climate change, but said the industry had made “considerable progress.”
But environmental concerns aside, Ludlow has had a busy inbox to deal with.
His job was to guide P&O through the various Covid lockdowns, where cruise ships were branded “plague ships”.
Speaking from his nautical-themed office at P&O’s Southampton headquarters, Ludlow said this coverage was “unfair” during an “incredibly difficult time” for the 200-year-old brand.
Expansion: Carnival now has 24 ships in its fleet, including seven P&O vessels, sailing to the four corners of the world.
“At first, the cruise industry made the news, I think unfairly, because at the time there were a lot of people who were very scared,” he said.
‘The logistics operation was nothing I had seen before.
“We worked day and night with big maps on the walls and planned how to repatriate people to their homes.”
To make matters worse, all this coincided with the corporate attempt to assimilate the changes brought about by Brexit.
Visa rules were revised when the ships docked and guidelines on further passage had to be renewed.
Carnival is estimated to have lost £7bn in 2020 due to the pandemic, with a further £6bn hit the following year.
But just when the company thought it was out of the woods with Covid, it was hit by another tornado: the P&O Ferries debacle.
Despite being a completely separate company, P&O Cruises suffered backlash when the ferry company illegally laid off almost 800 workers over Zoom in March 2022.
“People were confusing cruise ships with ferries,” he said.
Clearly still frustrated by the drama of it all, Ludlow added: “We had to work very hard to try to dispel that myth.”
His team even ran a large-scale campaign at the time, distancing itself from the ferry business for fear that consumers would boycott the brand. A statement at the time made it clear that: ‘Our names may begin with P&O. But that’s where the similarity ends.’
P&O Cruises became part of the Carnival group in 2003. P&O Ferries is owned by Dubai-based DP World.
Ludlow said: ‘We had to get over it. It was useless. It was difficult to deal with the post-pandemic when we thought we were going through better times.”
Having grown up between the Isle of Wight and London, Ludlow got hooked on traveling straight out of university when he became a Tui representative.
He spent nine months in the sun in Cyprus, booking excursions for clients and arranging airport transfers.
“What I learned is that I love the travel industry and working for a business where you inherently sell happiness and vacations are really important to that,” she said.
He later joined Carnival’s graduate program in 2001, rising from the sales team to president of Carnival UK, meaning he runs Cunard, Carnival’s luxury business, and P&O cruises globally, managing 2,000 employees. in the Southampton office and 14,000 employees at sea.
And despite the challenges that have come his way over the past two decades, Ludlow remains largely optimistic about the future of his industry and specifically P&O Cruises’ place in the British psyche.
He said: “Brands like us are part of Britain’s DNA – they have an incredible history and have weathered storms in the past and people can trust us.”
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them, we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.