Interview with Chris Coates, Commercial Director of Cruise & Maritime Voyages
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Debbie Marshall from Silver Travel Advisor talks to Chris about his passion for cruising and how this became his work and life. From its humble beginnings in 1996, Cruise & Maritime Voyages is now one of the UK’s leading cruise operators with exciting new developments planned for the future.
Chris, When did you first become interested in travel?I got the travel bug in the late 1970’s and in 1981 resigned from my coveted engineering job and management trainee course with Jaguar Cars much to the dismay of my late mother and backpacked around Europe with my best friend Clive and two girl friends who took the Euro Rail option. We all met once a month at different pre-arranged locations around Europe.
What took your interest to the cruise side of the industry?The European experience in 1981 and meeting lots of interesting Aussies, Kiwis, Canadians and Springboks, around camp fires. That’s when I first visited Greece and have been back virtually every Year since. I was fascinated with the country, especially the islands and vast array of ships sailing from Piraeus ‘criss crossing around the islands and I knew then that I wanted to carve out a career in passenger shipping and cruising.
What was your first job in cruising?I joined CTC Cruise Lines in 1983 as a Reservations Consultant based in Regent Street, London progressing through the ranks to become Sales & Marketing Director in 1992. A highly enjoyable time and a great apprenticeship and learning experience preceded by a two year stint at the College for Distributive Trades in Leicester Square, London following my return from Europe. While studying, both Bob Duffett, at the time head of NCL and pioneer of mass market Caribbean fly cruising and Michael Robbins, head of Royal Viking Line gave me some valuable time and advice before joining CTC following a work placement. I also briefly worked for a South African company called Astor Cruises for two years and was involved in the launch of the five star 600pax Astor based in Britain’s oldest recorded town, Colchester.
When did you decide you wanted your own cruise company and how did CMV first start?In 1996 Richard Bastow my fellow colleague and close friend at CTC decided to take the plunge and set up our own company. We formed a partnership called Cruise & Maritime Services and through our vast network of contacts and on the back of the rapid growth of the UK cruise market in the 1990’s, we steadily grew the business as general sales agents and ship brokers carving out a niche in the more traditional cruise sector. In 2007 we started chartering ships with just a few sailings with about 10 staff and today operate two ships carrying 45,000 passenger a year with around 50 UK staff.
What were the criteria for your first ship and what was its name?Our first chartered ship was the 1,000 passenger ship Arielle, the ex-Carousel. She was not our first choice but became available through our connections with Transocean Tours in Germany. Our main criteria was traditional lines and features like open promenade decks and good deep sea ocean cruising capability with a good selection of well appointed and comfortable lounges and cabins. Arielle did not meet all our requirements but we had a very successful inaugural season.
How has Marco Polo fitted in with that original criteria?Through our connections with Transocean Tours is where we met Nick Tragakes, the ship owner of Marco Polo which at the time was operating on the German market. She replaced Arielle. Marco Polo is almost a perfect match for us, a classic vessel and is proving to be a real winner with the Brits. I have very fond memories of this ship having worked with her as the Alexander Pushkin when I was at CTC. She was then based much in the Far East and also cruised out of Sydney.
Your second ship Ocean Countess has been replaced by Discovery. What are the advantages?Discovery is very well designed lower density vessel and has a feeling of much more space and a wider range of public areas for our passengers. She is also firmly established on the British and English speaking international markets and has gained a good reputation over the past decade. Ocean Countess served us really well and was loved by many of our passengers over the past 3 years so she will be remembered fondly and missed.
At present both ships are UK based. Do you see this changing to incorporate fly-cruises?In 2013, we do actually have a scheduled autumn Med fly cruise season with Discovery. This is a programme we inherited as a result of the All leisure Holidays deal and merging of programmes but our traditional roots are ex-UK based sailing from many British ports which are more convenient to regional markets.
Both ships are small by today’s standards. Do you envisage chartering larger ships?One of our main niche propositions is ‘a smaller ship traditional British cruise experience’. Capacity above 600 cabins becomes problematical as you start to lose the smaller ship ambience, accessibility to smaller ports and local infrastructure issues like lack of tour buses.
How do you see the future of the cruise industry?Regrettably becoming more globalised like most other consumer service industries. However, I fervently believe that there is still a promising future for niche cruise operators like CMV. Continued vessel investment is vital and provided returns on investment can be made by ship owners and charterers there is no reason why our ships cannot prolong their long illustrious careers.
How do you see the future for Cruise and Maritime?To continue developing the CMV brand in the UK and other English speaking international niche markets. In 2012 we opened an associate office in Fort Lauderdale, Florida to serve the North American market and are currently reviewing other options so watch this space.
Where is your favourite destination to cruise to and why?I experienced a wonderful 17 night Indian Ocean cruise experience onboard Astor in 1987 while at Astor Cruises visiting the Seychelles archipelago and East Africa. My favourite destination however has got to the Aegean and Eastern Mediterranean for the richly diverse cultures and of course the superb climate, scenery and great food.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Cruise & Maritime Voyages.
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