On the day when around 300 passengers booked with a leading cruise line were due to begin a New Year voyage from Marseille to Tenerife, mystery surrounds the last-minute cancellation of the sailing “due to operational reasons”.
Swan Hellenic told passengers that the 15-day trip aboard Minerva would not be going ahead only on 30 December. The company said customers will be contacted shortly about refund procedures.
The cruise line has been established for 60 years. The firm’s marketing says: “Boasting all the refinements of an intimate country house hotel, Minerva will take you in style and comfort as she leads the way to some of the world’s most fascinating destinations.”
A sister company, Voyages of Discovery, has cancelled a cruise starting from Malaysia tomorrow. The trip aboard Voyager was due to take in Borneo, Cambodia, Thailand and Singapore.
But a statement on the line’s website says: “Due to operational reasons, Voyages of Discovery regrets to inform its passengers that the Riches of the Orient cruise due to start in Malaysia on 4th January 2017 has been cancelled.
“Voyages of Discovery apologises to all of its passengers who were due to sail on this cruise.”
Both cruise lines are owned by the All Leisure Group, a long-established firm based in Market Harborough, Leicestershire.
According to the most recently published figures, covering the year up to October 2015, the cruise division lost £146 for each passenger it carried. Last February the chairman, Roger Allard, warned: “Trading conditions are expected to remain very challenging, especially in the light of the escalating conflict in the Middle East and recent acts of terrorism.”
The fall in the value of the pound following the EU referendum has hit UK travel companies hard. All Leisure Group’s revenue is predominantly in sterling, but its costs are mainly in foreign currencies, particularly the US dollar and euro. The firm has “hedged” its currency requirements, but those benefits are dwindling.
A regular Swan Hellenic customer, Catherine Chambers from Bath, said: "We have been on several Minerva trips and they have been some of our best holidays; I appreciate how complicated it must be to manage travel companies in these difficult times but really hope whatever is going on now is only a temporary glitch."
All Leisure Group also owns Hebridean Island Cruises, which has a single ship, Hebridean Princess — converted from a Caledonian MacBrayne car ferry. Since the Royal Yacht Britannia was decommissioned, the Queen has sailed with the cruise line, which has a royal warrant. The ship is due to start sailing again for the summer in March.
A Canadian firm, G Adventures, appears to have bought two other brands owned by All Leisure Group: Travelsphere and Just You. Both entities are now covered by an ATOL licence that is registered to G Adventures’ London office.
Enquiries by telephone and email to All Leisure Group have so far gone unanswered.