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Two of the best known figures in Britain’s cruise industry are about to abandon ship after a shake-up at Carnival UK, the home of the P&O Cruises and Cunard brands.
Carol Marlow, P&O Cruises’ managing director, and Peter Shanks, the Cunard boss, will both disembark at the end of September.
They are the victims of a restructuring aimed at boosting the proportion of younger cruisers at the UK arm of the world’s biggest cruise ship operator, Miami-based Carnival Corporation.
The two UK brands carry passengers with an average age of 55 to 60, with the seven-ship P&O Cruises offering a uniquely British experience, sourcing customers from the home market who typically enjoy Strictly Come Dancing, Downton Abbey and Classic FM.
The more upmarket three-ship Cunard brand, where the recent relaxation of the dress code on ties at dinner sparked controversy, has a more international appeal, with passengers from the UK, America, Australia and mainland Europe.
Ms Marlow is leaving after 16 years, during which she has directed the launch of five new ships across the UK business, while Mr Shanks has been with Cunard since 2002, overseeing the launch of its three ships – Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth.
David Dingle, the Carnival UK boss, said the pair were “two very talented people” but he had effectively restructured them out of a job.
“It’s the result of how, over the last two years, I have been reshaping the management of the company,” he said. “The genesis of this actually goes back five years to when the wider Carnival organisation decided to bring the management of Cunard back to the UK.”
Mr Dingle, who will assume the chief executive role at both P&O Cruises and Cunard, has spent the past few years centralising almost all of the functions at the two brands, including ship operations, finance and pricing.
“That basically left two marketing departments,” he said. “I need people who have real specialisation in marketing, distribution and revenue management. Peter and Carol were finding it harder to have a role in this organisation because their skills are more as general managers. I have made sure they have been well looked after.”
Carnival UK now plans to hire dedicated marketing directors for the two brands. Mr Dingle, 56, said: “I need people who understand new marketing – the internet and social media,” noting that the departing duo were “contemporaries of mine”.
He said such techniques would help attract younger cruisers, with Carnival keen to widen the appeal of such vacations away from the traditional image of wealthy OAPs.
“I want to bring in newcomers to the brands and newcomers happen to have a lower average age,” said Mr Dingle, adding that the current average age was “mid to high 50s”.
The shake-up has been given added impetus by last year’s appointment of Gerard Tempest as chief commercial officer. He hailed from Whitbread, owner of the Premier Inn budget hotels and Costa coffee chains.
Asked if he planned to take the cruise brands downmarket, Mr Dingle said: “No, I admire Premier Inn’s operational efficiency but both our brands will remain somewhat more lavish.”
He denied that the departures of Ms Marlow and Mr Shanks were part of a cost-cutting exercise or related to any recent setbacks, including last December’s norovirus outbreak on P&O Cruises Oriana that brought the red-top headline “Our Vomit Hell on Plague Ship”.
“No, it’s not connected,” he said. “We have been working on this plan for some time,” noting that P&O Cruises plans to launch the biggest ever vessel for the UK market in 2015.
The shake-up coincides with a tempestuous time for parent Carnival, whose shares dived 13pc last month on a profits warning and which is best known lately as the owner of the striken Costa Concordia, whose grounding left 32 dead.
Carnival acquired P&O’s cruise ship arm, P&O Princess, for £3.5bn in 2002 after an epic takeover battle with rival Royal Caribbean.