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Interview: Martin Lister, Planning Manager, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

Martin -lister -fred -olsenWe caught up with Martin Lister, Planning Manager at Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines to get an insight into the cruise line's itineraries, as well as some of Martin's personal favourites. Martin has spent the last 10 years in his current role at Fred. Olsen and discuss the best new destinations and the company's reasons behind increasing capacity for cruise from Newcastle. Read the interview below.

Overseeing planning for Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines for many years sounds an interesting role. What are your favourite, and also most challenging, aspects of your role?

I love unearthing a popular and appealing gem of a cruise – whether it is finding a new cruising area, ‘rebranding’ a cruise to give it a new concept, or creating a new and innovative itinerary that is a ‘cruise industry first’. 

I am very passionate about our product and take great pride in talking about our cruise itineraries. I also love distributing, and then promoting, the cruises, explaining the reasons – and sometimes the stories – behind why they are planned the way they are. There’s almost always another dimension to our cruises that’s not always evident from just reading the itinerary on the page. 

The most challenging aspect is taking every guest’s and the company’s requirements into consideration, and then producing itineraries that are appealing and – importantly - navigationally and operationally viable. 

In 2016/17, Fred. Olsen will sail to no fewer than 253 destinations across the globe.  What’s new destination-wise and why?

With our portfolio of fjord and river itineraries showcasing the best of the landscapes and scenery in Europe, we have featured a number of new destinations (ports of call and scenic cruising), as we continue to add to the variety we offer; Aabenraa and Hundested feature in our Danish Fjords cruise, and Holy Loch and cruising a number of lochs, such as Linnhe, Torridon & Shieldaig, feature in our Scottish Lochs cruise. 

In addition to that, we are offering a quirky cruise to the USA and Canada, called Old England to New England, where the itinerary features ports of call on the Eastern Seaboard with the same name as destinations in the UK.  This theme has resulted in maiden calls into Norfolk and Gloucester in the United States.

Our clients are booking earlier than ever before. Which itinerary/destination is selling best for 2016 and why?

Our second-ever Arctic Explorer cruise – discovering Norway, Svalbard, Iceland and Greenland – has once again sold out extremely quickly. 

Another success is our two-week Greenland Fjords cruise – rebranding it into a fjords cruise has really appealed to guests’ imaginations, and availability is now very limited. 

Over the last few years, Fred. Olsen have embraced themed cruising. What is your most popular theme for 2015 and why? And what’s new for 2016?

The most obvious answer here is our Film Stars & Fast Cars Western Mediterranean cruise, where guests can soak up the atmosphere of the famous Film Festival in Cannes, and take in the adrenaline rush of the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix from neighbouring Nice. This cruise, originally planned in 2014, is now in its third year. Unfortunately, in 2016, the dates of the two events do not coincide with one another; however, the cruise is still scheduled to visit Cannes, and maintains the jewel in the F1 crown – the Monaco Formula One Grand Prix (our 2016 cruise is entitled Sun, Sea & Monaco Grand Prix).

Fred. is known as the Norway specialist. What is your favourite port of call?

Well, I actually have two but, before I tell you, I think it’s important to mention that, certainly, on Norwegian fjords cruises, it’s not just the ports of call, but also the real fjords that are itinerary destinations and the reason for booking a Norwegian fjords cruise. That’s why the cruises are called Norwegian Fjords – and that is easily overlooked by the media, cruise market and other operators alike. 

However, at Fred. Olsen, we recognise the importance and the natural beauty of Norway’s stunning landscape, and we take the expensive decision to incorporate additional fjords cruising into our itineraries, and to divert away from the direct routes from port-to-port, in order to showcase the unique scenery, which often tells its own story and creates an everlasting memory.

So, with that in mind, one of my two favourites is the majestic fjord of Nærøyfjord – rated by National Geographic as the best natural UNESCO World Heritage Site in the world – and is only able to be sailed if the ship takes the time to divert down there. Cruising down this particular fjord gives the impression that you are heading towards a dead end, by magically appearing to open up to allow you to cruise further as it winds and bends, and then seeming to close in behind you. But this fjord is not open to all cruise ships; only small vessels, up to Fred. Olsen’s ship size, can cruise the entire length and navigate the narrow bend at the midway point. 

My second favourite is Longyearbyen, in Svalbard – a magical, yet intriguing, destination that is filled with the beauty of glaciers and snow-capped mountains, the eeriness of abandoned mines, disused swinging coal trolleys and howling huskies. 

We have seen Fred. embrace river cruising over the last couple of years – are there plans to expand this and where’s next?

In 2015, our itineraries offering scenic cruising of the French rivers and German waterways are performing very well. These cruises, which mostly feature tidally-restricted rivers and ports of call, are only possible with smaller-sized ships, like our shallow-drafted Braemar. 

The novelty of river cruising on an ocean-going ship seems to be proving very popular indeed, and we have broadened our portfolio in 2016/17 to include more German waterways, French and Spanish rivers, and also a wider range of fjord cruising, not just in Norway and Germany, but also in Denmark, Sweden, New Zealand and Chile, and even loch cruising in Scotland!

Fred. Olsen have based Balmoral out of Newcastle for summer 2016, increasing capacity by 45%, what was the strategy behind this?

We are very excited to be basing Balmoral in Newcastle from May to August in 2016, as it means that we are almost doubling our capacity and offering our loyal guests in the North East an even greater number of cruise departures than ever before.

The Port of Tyne is also ideally placed for our ever-popular Norway, Scandinavian and Baltic itineraries, and we can save up to three days’ cruising time sailing from Newcastle to Norway than from Southern ports.”

The appealing combination of choice and value offered by Fred. Olsen has already seen many first-time cruisers and repeat customers from the North East region make the decision to use their local port and sail from the Port of Tyne.

Research shows that guests from the North East rate the choice of destination as the most compelling factor when booking a cruise with Fred. Olsen. As a result, in 2016, guests can choose from a wider selection of destinations sailing directly from the Port of Tyne, including the cooler climes of Norway, Scandinavia and the Baltics, to the warmer shores of the Canary Islands, Madeira, the Azores, Portugal, Morocco and Spain.

With major cruise lines ordering new ships on a regular basis, are there any plans to expand the fleet above four ships and to offer even more unique destinations?

We are always looking at ways of improving what we do and providing our guests with different experiences and adventures from around the world. There are plans to expand the Fred. Olsen fleet in time, as we continue to grow the business – but I am only in charge of planning the itineraries!  

We are proud to be offering even more destinations and exotic, memorable experiences than ever before – possibly more than any other cruise line – so this will continue to be one of main focuses.

Fred. Olsen’s unique selling point is the smaller, more intimate and traditional style of ship, in this age of the superliner, is there pressure to introduce larger ships?

As we say in the cruise industry, ‘There is a cruise out there for everyone’, and our smaller, more intimate ships are very well-suited to the needs of our more mature clientele. But naturally, there are those who prefer cruising on larger resort-style ships, and it is all a matter of personal preference.  

We continue to try to excel at what we do, and with a guest repeat factor of up to 60% on average, we are clearly doing something right! 

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