Exclusive: Cunard's Peter Shanks Gives Intel on World Cruise Dynamics


Queen Mary 2, shown above in Sydney harbor along with the new Queen Elizabeth, will operate a full world cruise in 2013. // (c) 2011 Cunard Line

Last week, Cunard Line released its 2013 schedule for World Cruises. Both Queen Mary 2 and Queen Victoria will operate full world cruises, and combined with Queen Elizabeth’s longer voyages throughout the winter, Peter Shanks, the line’s president and managing director, says it’s the first time all three ships are simultaneously sailing very long voyages.

Only a few years back, the world cruise concept appeared to be waning. But today, it’s alive and well, says Shanks, who estimates that 800 to 1,000 guests book each full world cruise – meaning the entire journey, rather than individual segments of that cruise.
What type of customer is ripe for booking a world cruise? “There are three types of customers on Cunard’s world cruises,” he notes. First, are the regular world cruise guests. “We have quite a few people going ‘round the world each year,” Shanks emphasizes that one female Cunard guest has taken 29 world cruises.
Second, Cunard sees “once-in-a-lifetime customers, who have always aspired to take a world cruise when they reach a certain age or reach retirement,” he says. Shanks tells TravelAgentCentral.com  that these customers have been looking forward to the trip for 20 or 30 years.
So even if they choose a year for a world cruise in which the economy might be a bit tougher, they’re ready to sail because they’ve prepared so well for decades, Shanks stresses.
And third among Cunard’s world cruisers are past Cunard or other line guests who decide to step up to a more exotic and longer experience. It’s a natural progression of their cruise vacation development.
Many of the ports featured on world cruises are selected by the guests themselves, based on feedback from surveys at the end of voyages. Other ports simply have broad-based appeal.   
First, “we have to have the big hitting cities on any itinerary,” says Shanks. He says the top scoring city among Cunard’s guests is Sydney, Australia. “It’s a place everybody wants to see and aspires to see,” Shanks stresses, adding that the stunning impact of the physical arrival and departure of ships at Sydney with the Sydney Opera House and famous bridge is a plus.  
Other must-have cities on Cunard’s world cruise itineraries are places like San Francisco, Hong Kong, New York, Shanghai, Dubai and Capetown, says Shanks. Those are also places in which the ships tend to overnight.  
Yet, Shanks also says “some of the best scoring shore experiences are in small ports,” giving the example of Fremantle in Australia. In addition to a warm local welcome for guests going ashore, “it just happened [a port call on a world cruise] to coincide with a beautiful, sunny day and holiday, with thousands of boats heading down to see [the Cunard ship] off.”
The Bay Islands of New Zealand and Bora Bora are other off-the-beaten path port call experiences that Cunard guests tend to love.
What’s the average age of a world cruiser?  Cunard’s world cruise guest is typically 67 to 70 on average, and that spans widely on either side, says Shanks. Obviously, the full world cruise has the eldest guest average, while individual segments tend to be a bit younger.  
“When we get to Australia, we get an infusion of youngsters,” Shanks says. “Australians love Cunard.” He says that in 2012 Queen Mary 2 will be doing Cunard’s first-ever 21-day cruise around Australia, visiting 12 different Australia ports.
“We also have quite a few Japanese guests on our world cruises,” he remarks, noting that Cunard guests love different interests and cultures. “Particularly if you have a smart, formal evening, it’s all part of the cosmopolitan mix.”
Sometimes full world cruise guests and segment guests just don’t get along, agents often say. What’s Shanks’ take on the subject?  
On the whole, [having full world cruise guests and segment guests onboard together] works well for Cunard,” Shanks says. "We know the [full] cruise group is a special community, so we always create an area for them, and it’s normally part of the Winter Garden. So these guests meet, having their morning coffee and Danish, and enjoy people watching.”
He also says onboard crew do their part, assuring guests mix and mingle, and that the full world cruisers feel they’re being looked after. “We really work at it,” he says.
In addition, on a full world cruise, having some younger guests on an individual segment can actually help the onboard atmosphere, he says. That’s particularly true as the world cruise reaches its halfway point. Full world cruise guests can become emotional and a bit down about the ship starting its homeward journey. 
But says Shanks: “That generally coincides with us reaching Australia, and the Australians bring a whole new life and sizzle to the ship.”
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