Panache Cruises is one of the UK’s leading specialists in elite ocean, river, expedition, and yacht-style cruising. Founded by James Cole, one of the most recognised names in the UK cruise industry, Panache Cruises notes that it prides itself on its team – “we don’t just book cruises, we craft each cruise holiday as if it were our own trip and we leave no stone unturned in creating the ultimate cruise experience”.
The team has unparalleled experience and knowledge, but that doesn’t mean they do everything the way it’s always been done – quite the opposite, if they can see a better way of doing something then they embrace it. This is why I think it works so well.
A personal service is provided by Cruise Connoisseurs and customers have only ONE point of contact from beginning to end – it’s personal and it’s tailored.
I’ve been following the growth of Panache Cruises since its launch and working in the cruise industry myself I’ve enjoyed watching it grow into a highly recognised online agency. It was launched at a time when everything around travel was negative and focussed on cancellations, refunds, and redundancies. Because of this, I wanted to introduce you to James Cole and Panache Cruises. Why? Because the company and its story became a glimmer of hope and brought some positive news to the travel industry at a time when we needed it the most.
James, for those people who haven’t heard of you, can you give us a brief introduction? You’ve been a recognised guru within the cruise industry for many years now and have successfully set up and worked with various companies and brands, but how did it all start?
Well, I have been involved in the cruise industry for over twenty years now. Wow… that makes me feel somewhat old! After leaving University I joined Airtours Holidays, which became MyTravel in the early 2000’s and before long I was working at a senior level in the Group’s cruise operation at a time when the UK cruise industry was in an intensive period of growth.
I also helped set up and grow The Cruise Store for MyTravel, a cruise retailer which grew to £125m turnover in just 3 years.
MyTravel then merged with Thomas Cook in 2007 and I decided it was time to focus on building a business of my own.
In 2008, I launched ‘Cruise 118’ (with my business partner Mal Barritt) which became one of the UK’s leading mid-market cruise agencies. This preceded the launch of various other cruise brands including ‘Six Star Cruises’ and ‘River Voyages’, focused on the luxury and river sectors respectively.
Having sold my final shareholding in those businesses in 2018, I decided to launch a luxury and ultra-luxury focused cruise retailer in early 2020, during the early stages of the pandemic. The lull in passenger demand gave us the headspace we needed to put together a business plan, build a team and recruit customers who wanted impartial advice on all things cruising.
Emerging from the pandemic, cruise lines needed as much help as possible to fill their ships as the sector recovered. Our cruise line partners have been exceptionally supportive of us over the last couple of years. The industry is now back to where it was before the pandemic and is thriving once more.
Panache Cruises has already sold over £15m of luxury and ultra-luxury cruises and has a team of 40 hand-picked people and is the UK’s fastest-growing luxury cruise retailer.
How is Panache different from other agencies? What would you say really sets it apart?
Panache Cruises is based upon a very simple concept – that nothing is too much trouble. From organising private jets to bespoke shore excursions, we’ll strive to make it happen. It’s about having a ‘can do’ attitude. Having an extensive network across the entire travel industry has been crucial too. We have brought in people with detailed knowledge of the airline, private aviation, and luxury hotel sectors to further extend our offering.
Our Customer Trust Fund helps to set us apart too whereby we ring fence people’s money. Given the number of travel businesses that failed during the pandemic to just say that you are ATOL protected is no longer enough. People want the security of knowing that the business they are booking with is well managed financially and that their booking and funds are safe. It’s about peace of mind.
Also, we’re not encumbered by the traditional views that originate from within the cruise industry. Whilst many of our people have been recruited from within the cruise sector, we have people from a wide variety of backgrounds; from a former investment banker to a luxury car sales person. We pay the highest base salaries and commission rates within the travel sector, and we invest heavily in training and product knowledge transfer.
Our ‘Cruise Connoisseurs’, as we like to call them, are some of the most knowledgeable in the luxury cruise sector; not just in the UK but globally. They are truly world class. That’s why engaging the services of a specialist cruise agency can be so rewarding; you are able to quickly compare and contrast all the offers within the marketplace across all luxury cruise lines and take advice from someone who really is a specialist in his or her field.
Finally, our team spirit is infectious. Panache Cruises is more about a mindset than anything else. Everything we do, our ‘Modus operandi’ if you like is underpinned by our brand values. This is nicely summed up by Cambridge University’s definition of the word panache: “A stylish, original and very confident way of doing things that makes people admire you.”
That’s why we’re called Panache Cruises…
What do you envision for the future of Panache Cruises? Is this a company you’d like to launch on an international level?
Listening to our customers’ needs is of key importance and that is helping us to shape our short to medium term business plans. We have already developed an excellent reputation in the luxury cruise sector for customer service and our offers and promotions are unique in the marketplace. Our breadth of cruise partners will only grow over time too. So yes, we are very excited about the future. We have more than enough to contend with in the UK before we think about taking the business overseas! Attracting new people to cruising is a key part of the challenge here in the UK and I hope to play a leading role in that push for growth.
So, now my readers have a better understanding of who you are, let’s move on to the important questions – your own cruise experiences!
Which part of the world do you enjoy visiting the most and why?
Anybody who really knows me will tell you that I have a bit of a ‘thing’ for the Caribbean and particularly Barbados. Perhaps it is because I grew up in the North West of England where the cold wet weather is infamous… but I simply love the azure blue waters of the Caribbean and the feeling of the warm sun on my back. Everybody has a slightly different view of what paradise looks like, but this is my special place… I simply love it!
As a cruise destination or stop-over, Barbados offers so much. Given the large number of cruises which start and finish here you can easily add on some time at one of end of your cruise holiday too. It is perhaps the perfect dual centre holiday – one half being land based in Barbados and the other touring the Caribbean islands via ship.
It is no surprise that the finest ocean cruise lines in the world offer itineraries which depart from and return to Barbados. Regent Seven Seas, Silversea and Oceania all have operations here, to name but a few. AND that’s not to mention the new yacht-style itineraries being offered by brands such as Emerald and Scenic.
In one of my next blogs, I want to touch on expedition sailings. I recently sailed with Hurtigruten Expeditions and loved every moment of it – it was a unique experience and one that I’m looking forward to doing again. So, I ask you, which expedition lines are you seeing the biggest growth for with regards to booking numbers for 2023/24 and why do you think that is?
Expediton is one of the growth sectors within the cruise market. From specialist operators like AE Expeditions to more mainstream ultra-luxury cruise lines like Seabourn and Silversea, everyone seems to be entering the expedition sector. Why? It’s a natural progression of the cruise market to explore new and exciting destinations and continue to differentiate cruises offered to customers.
Is there an itinerary out there that’s on your own bucket list?
There are still a number of smaller Caribbean islands that I have not been to, so these are very much on my target list. Antarctica cruises are also of specific interest despite my love of the Caribbean! I have a young family though so whatever we go has to work for my wife and my three children and that’s where its starts to get tricky! My youngest daughter is three years old and my oldest is 18 so it is interesting to see how the luxury cruise sector is adapting to attract and retain families with a younger demographic. Luxury cruise lines are working hard to attract young professionals to try a luxury cruise for the first time and the new generation of luxury cruise ships will appeal to a younger age group too.
What’s your favourite cruise memory?
I have been on well over 150 cruises so there are a lot of memories to choose from! I have had some pretty amazing experiences afloat, attending many naming ceremonies, being fortunate to meet royalty and many famous people. The open bridge policy at Scenic Eclipse is really a very special feature and one that I will always remember. Passengers are allowed to visit the bridge at any time and the Captain may even make you a brew.
To end, let’s look at the year ahead, what trends are you seeing for 2023 and the luxury cruise market?
Over the past two years we have seen a shift in the priorities of travellers across the wider travel sector. Due to the pandemic, people become more crowd conscious, and many have moved away from mass-market style holidays. When translated into the cruise sector, this is driving more interest in small ship cruising due to smaller passenger numbers and the fact that small ships often offer 50% more personal space per person compared to the largest cruise ships. We are seeing that people are trying to make up for lost time and are prepared to spend more to reach the destinations they really want to visit.
We are also seeing that people are trying to make up for lost time. They are prepared to spend more to reach the destinations they really want to visit. All those cancelled holidays during lockdown have given a lot of people more buying power in the post-pandemic world and we are seeing more and more people switching to higher cabin grades and longer itineraries as a result.
I am also really pleased to see that the cruise industry as a whole is making huge strides in lowering its environmental impact. We already have 100% electric ships operating in the river cruise sector and 2023 will see the launch of an entirely new ocean propulsion system that is being pioneered by our luxury cruise partner Silversea. I also note with great interest that the first hydrogen powered ferry will start operating in March of 2023 in the California Bay area of America. The scale of this advancement is amazing, and it is something that I am extremely pleased to see.
I hope those of you reading this take something away from it. Whether that be the happiness of a positive outcome during a negative time, or the fact you may now have a brand-new luxury cruise agent to consider!
Panache Cruises is currently shortlisted in 2 award categories at the upcoming luxury Travel Awards – Luxury Cruise Agent of The Year and Luxury Travel Big Idea of The Year.
Find out more about Panache Cruises.
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