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Over the time that we’ve been cruising with P&O I have read a number of comments to the effect that one of the line’s problem is that it trying to be all things to all people. It’s happy simply to be seen as “Britain’s favourite cruise line” without bothering too much trying to understand what it is this means, and disregarding the differences between the ships, and the policies that applied to them.

My original opinion was to regard the comments as misplaced; I saw no problem with P&O trying to present themselves with a common front. After all this is what other lines do, very successfully – take Princess Cruises for example. More recently however I’ve begun to feel that the comments may be correct. I read a lot of questions on various cruise forums from people new to P&O who are clearly confused by what’s on offer. I suppose you could say that they want know ‘what P&O stands for’, and there doesn’t seem got be a single answer these days.

Those lines that present a more monolithic image have the advantage of having a more standardised environment, for example Princess cruises who I mentioned above. Out of their fleet of 16 ships, no less than 9 are of the same class, the Grand Princess class. That gives a considerable commonality of experience; in fact although that class is just over half of the ships it’s probably close to two-thirds of the berths, given the size of the Grand Princess class ships. And even on other ships, Princess follow pretty much the same policies as they do on the Grand class ships.

Of course, there’s the alternative approach – slice and dice the market – which is what Royal Caribbean do. There’s the Royal Caribbean fleet itself with a number of very large feature-rich ships, including the two largest cruise ships in the world. To a significant extent this fleet consists of ships where the ship itself is half the destination. This fleet is, in the main, very strongly family-oriented. Then, for a less family-based approach, and for customers who perhaps don’t want all the onboard attractions, there’s Celebrity which has a very strong fleet of five excellent, new ships – the Solstice class – that won considerable plaudits for their design and standards of service when the first came into service. Then for those passengers with deeper pockets who want a more up-market approach in a more intimate (and even less family-friendly) environment, there’s Azamara Club Cruises. Not only does the physical nature of the ships differ between the lines, but the policies do as well – Royal Caribbean is pretty casual, Celebrity tends towards the formal, while Azamara hews to what they call ‘country club casual’.

So how does P&O compare to these two examples? Well, they’re a bit of a mixup:

  • some ships are family-friendly while others are so family-unfriendly that they’re adults-only (‘child free’ used to be the phrase);
  • there are different on-board policies, e.g. some ships have three suggested dress codes, others have only two. And there is a continued call to re-introduce an casual environment cruise leon, in the style of the former Ocean Village line;
  • the ships themselves are a mixture of sizes and layouts – only two out of the seven-strong fleet are essentially the same as each other;
  • currently the largest ships have a passenger capacity four times that of the smallest, with all that suggests for variety in on-board facilities, and in 2015 (with the arrival of Britannia) this will increase to five times.

I think I’ve come to the conclusion that P&O would indeed gain some benefits from being able to give itself some quite different marketing identities. I can think of several different ‘splits’:

  • traditional, formal: Oriana, Aurora, Adonia. One problem with this would be that only one of these ships has any facilities at all for families;
  • modern and smart/semi-formal: Azura, Arcadia. Again, not very family-friendly;
  • modern, family-friendly and casual: Ventura, Oceana and perhaps Britannia? Although Oceana isn’t very modern and is quite different from the other two.

Or perhaps this:

  • family-friendly and casual: Ventura, Azura, Oceana and Britannia;
  • smart and semi-formal: Arcadia and Aurora;
  • traditional and formal: Oriana and Adonia;

Or even:

  • casual and family-friendly: Ventura, Britannia
  • smart and sophisticated: Azura, Arcadia, Aurora;
  • traditional: Oriana, Adonia, Oceana.

(The cake could be sliced in many different ways.)

Of course there are arguments against. The name ‘P&O’ has a lot of resonance in the UK, and you don’t throw a brand like that away in a hurry. But I do now think there are strong arguments in favour of doing something. What do my readers think about this?

One Response to “Should P&O split itself up?”

  1. Malcolm Oliver says:

    A fascinating debate Tom. I took my FIRST P&O cruise on Ventura in 2012 (school summer holidays) and was shocked how ‘mass-market’ the whole experience was in terms of the number of families, teens and atmosphere (not always a positive one either). Yet the fare was ‘premium’.

    Now I must admit that even though I had done a fair bit of research, I expected P&O to feel a little classier and a little less dumbed-down. Surprisingly the ship/experience was more mass-market than the likes of Royal Caribbean and NCL. I appreciate the time of year was the biggest factor, but never the less, I did not quite get the experience than I expected. In fact I may never cruise P&O again.

    I have also cruised RC and NCL in the school summer holidays and their ships handled the passenger numbers so much better than Ventura did.
    I am really not clear now who P&O are for and which ships are best suited to who. I am not clear how departure dates affect the demographic onboard each ship.

    However I am very clear who RCI, NCL, Cunard and Celebrity are for.


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