In his first interview as Silversea UK managing director, Peter Shanks sets out ambitious plans to expand the luxury brand’s distribution. Harry Kemble reports
Peter Shanks is determined to give Silversea “a new lease of life” by targeting every type of travel agent to sell its luxury sailings.
Shanks, who took over as UK managing director in January and more recently had his remit expanded to cover the Middle East and Africa, says Silversea enjoys a “great relationship” with niche, luxury cruise retailers, such as Mundy Cruising.
But now he wants to diversify and work closer with mainstream cruise specialist agents such as Iglu, Cruise.co.uk, Barrhead Travel and World Travel Holdings, which have vast customer databases, to attract new passengers.
“They have got their big databases, and within those there is a stream of customers who want our product,” says Shanks.
“Finding new customers is a challenge. We have to get past the noise of cruising and target those customers.
“Thomas Cook, for example, has 30 to 40 shops that we would like to develop a relationship with.”
Shanks says there is also growing interest from companies such as Trailfinders, Audley Travel and Imagine Cruising, which want to package up their own tours that include a Silversea cruise.
“We are giving these companies access to net fares and then they create the bespoke holiday. And there are other businesses that we could bring to the table.”
Shanks, who spent 11 years at Carnival Corporation including four years at Cunard, says it would be “nice to tempt” passengers off the ‘Grills’ of his former employer’s ships to “try a real luxury experience” with Silversea.
“There are customers who are finding the big-ship experience a bit challenging, so you could move them on to a smaller ship,” he said.
Shanks says his arrival at Silversea has reminded him of the challenges he faced when he began his tenure at Cunard in 2002.
“When I joined Cunard they had narrow distribution and older ships. Fast forward to now and Silversea has narrow distribution and some older ships,” he says. “We have an opportunity to grow.
Shanks also hopes to break into the Irish luxury market and become the “go-to cruise line for real luxury” in the country, claiming there are no other luxury lines targeting that market.
As well as widening distribution channels – a process that had been started by his predecessor, Lisa McAuley – Shanks says he is determined for Silversea to be seen more as a luxury travel company than just a cruise line.
To illustrate this, Shanks says Silversea’s Galapagos itinerary paired with a land tour to Machu Picchu had become increasingly popular. He adds: “We are not just a cruise business. We believe in luxury and travel. We have the classic cruise ships but then we have expedition too.
“If someone wants to go to Russia and the Far East on luxury ships there is no one else.”
Silversea’s fleet consists of nine ships with five traditional ocean vessels and four expedition ships.
Last year it relaunched Silver Cloud in Uruguay following a $40 million revamp to transform it into a polar-class ship. The 200-berth ship is now Silversea’s largest expedition vessel.
Meanwhile, the 100-passenger Silversea Galapagos offers passengers island-hopping cruises to one of the most-coveted archipelagos in the world.
According to Shanks, Silversea itineraries offer more than just “drive-by” expedition cruising and allow passengers to “do David Attenborough, rather than just watch David Attenborough”.
“If you look at some of the market, you will get the impression that with Holland America Line or Celebrity Cruises you are getting the ultimate Antarctica cruise,” he says.
“But that is not the case. You will not get off the ship. You will drive by the penguins. It is important for travel agents to understand that.
“We have all the Zodiacs but the guests come back on board to luxury. That’s the difference.”
Shanks also says he plans to create a family offering to the Galapagos, “maybe for children between the ages of 12 and 17”.
“Imagine a family with one, two or three kids,” he says. “If they could do Galapagos it would be one of those holidays they would remember for a long time.”
Helping agents sell
Shanks, who joined Silversea from Imagine Cruising where he was development director, acknowledges it is “hard” for independent agents to sell the brand without having access to the right information.
In a bid to change that and appeal to more agents, the line has launched a suite of agent tools and activity. These include weekly webinars, some of which will be hosted by Shanks himself, which will offer training on the Silversea product with a focus on the line’s 900-plus destinations, and customisable marketing materials.
Agents can download product literature through Travel Agent Resources, on the Silversea Academy portal, while a Facebook page, called Travel Agent Centre, has been created to inform agents about news, events and incentives.
Silversea held its first Silversea Advocates lunch in central London last month for its 40 top-selling agents, but Shanks hopes to sign up 60 more by 2019.
Top-selling agents will be able to earn a place on a Silversea fam trip, or agents can pay $100 a night to join a sailing to experience the product. According to Shanks, 25 agents have signed up to join the heavily reduced sailing for the trade later this year. The cruise would “normally cost between £8,000 and £10,000”, he says.
Four ship visits have already been confirmed on expedition ship Silver Cloud when it makes calls at Tower Bridge and in Scotland and Ireland in May.
“If someone walks in off the high street and says ‘I want to go to Antarctica’, that is not an easy first thing for them to sell,” Shanks says. “We are looking to provide the tools and training and the communication to help them through that journey.
“These tools are for everybody, but they are primarily for people who want us to hold their hand and to help bring the product to life and train them on it.
“Agents have said they have not heard enough from us and they would like to do more so there is a huge appetite.”
Ten seconds with Peter Shanks
Where are you most ‘at home’ when abroad?
What’s the best advice you ever received?
My stepfather’s motto: ‘Never let the b******s get you down’.
What was your first cruise and where was it sailing?
It was a five-day Carnival cruise out of Miami and it was then that I saw the potential of cruising.
Do you prefer a night in or a night out?
A night in with family or friends.
What did you want to do as a career when you were young?
I wanted to be an airline pilot.
What is your favourite film?
What is your most prized possession?
Favourite thing to do at the weekend?
I like to watch Harlequins play and take a spinning class.
Favourite TV show?
Do you have any pets?
Our labrador Pepper passed away last year, but we also have Smudge the cat and my daughter’s pony Twix
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