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Forging ahead: Pandaw's new sales supremo takes the tiller

As readers of The Pandaw Story are aware, our company has flourished by constant innovation, consistent experimenting with new products in new markets, while never losing sight of what makes Pandaw special.

Staying ahead of the pack gets more challenging every year, especially now that river cruising – once a minor tributary of the multi-million dollar global cruise market – has become a hot growth area. Long gone are the days when Pandaw and its loyal customers had the great rivers of Southeast Asia more or less to themselves.

Against this dynamic, competitive background, we are delighted to announce a new senior key appointment that we think marks a significant new chapter in the life of the company.

Step forward Marco Rosa, Pandaw’s new Vice President Sales & Marketing, who is tasked with growing and diversifying our business while keeping a tight hold on the company’s unconventional and adventurous spirit, with deep historical and cultural roots.

Marco is a Sicilian by birth, but is now happily settled near that most English of towns, Tunbridge Wells in Kent. He has held several senior positions at the more glamorous end of the travel industry. These include Abercrombie & Kent where he headed their luxury Sanctuary Resorts division, and Orient Express, where he handled sales and marketing for their trains and cruises. In other words, few people have a better overview of the high-end experiential travel market, or are more insightful about the global trends in the cruise industry and how they might develop in future.

Bringing as he does a wide network of senior industry contacts and established partners, Marco has been tasked by Pandaw founder Paul Strachan to ensure sure more people know about the company and its products, while preserving the individuality, quality and uniqueness that are valued so highly by the company and its followers.

Marco Rosa at Pandaw

Pandaw Travel Blog caught up with Marco soon after his appointment, and took the opportunity to sound him out on his plans.

Pandaw Blog: It's great to have you on board Marco. Can I ask what drew you to the company?

"Well to start with I was drawn by the fact that Pandaw offers an amazing product, in the form of an incredible experience for customers. First of all there is the “hardware” itself, the traditional design of the ships and built locally in Southeast Asia to such high standards. Then there is this great interaction between the company and the local community, and all the local projects we are involved with. All of these I think are a big plus for us."

How is Pandaw different to the other companies you have worked for?

"I see Pandaw as having a more nimble and dynamic culture than any I have worked for, what I like about it is that if you make a suggestion or a decision, the response time is very quick. There is not a huge corporation organisation to penetrate, so it is quite easy to make changes and follow what the consumer wants, and what the market is asking for. Also, Pandaw is a fast-growing business at an interesting stage. Now I feel it is really gearing up for the next step and growing further the business, and for me that includes restructuring the sales area, having more of a presence in all our primary markets, and investing more with our trade partners."

Pandaw normally avoids the term “luxury cruise” as we don't think it captures the spirit of our offering. What is your view on that?

"I agree that the marketing term “luxury” does not quite reflect what our kind of customers are looking for. These days travel customers can drink champagne every day at home if they wish, they don’t travel to do that sort of superficial thing. What they are looking for is an unusual and stimulating experience of the sort that money alone cannot buy. This is where I think we score very highly."
 
"The fact that we sell off-the-beaten-track itineraries, and that we pioneer new routes in new places where other people really don’t go – or can’t go. Examples include southern China or the north of Myanmar, where the design of our ships allows us to penetrate far further upriver than our rivals, while offering service standards that are up there with the best offered on any more conventional “cruise”. This combination is really important. "

How do you think the river cruise market is changing?

"Well, it’s growing incredibly fast for a start. Even a few years ago rivers were barely mentioned in the cruise world, but since then the whole industry has been taking massive steps forward. If you look at the amount of investment going in to the sector, and the amount of new boats being built, that tells the story. In Europe there is huge investment. Every company I know of seems to be building big ships for European rivers. Actually what happens in Europe is helping us indirectly, as potential customers are becoming more and more familiar with what a river cruise product can be. There are huge opportunities for us. "

How are public perceptions of river expeditions changing?

"I think that until recently this considered a boring sort of itinerary, the kind favoured by old people, not very exciting and with nothing much to do. Today it is very different. In fact a lot of people now are coming to realise that a river cruise itinerary tends to be much more interesting than a seagoing one when you spend days at sea. In a river cruise you are seeing a lot going past just by standing on the ship, let alone sampling our huge range of shore attractions, so it’s a lot more interesting."

What do you think are the strengths of Pandaw's destinations?

"Our core destination Southeast Asia is a great asset to us. It wasn’t always the case, but looking at the political situation, is one of the safest areas you can travel today. Ocean cruise lines are really struggling, because there are so many places they cannot go. The fact that we are operating in relatively safe areas, with an amazing culture, beautifully-mannered people, makes our offering seem a safe place where the consumer knows they can relax."

What are your sales and marketing priorities at Pandaw?

"Well, I think improving our digital marketing should be a big focus for us, and we will be looking at that, but for me it’s all about getting out there and meeting people and talking to them about the Pandaw offer. My strength on the sales side comes from the fact that I like forging good relationships with people. It’s always important to build relationships of trust with agents and buyers. Not only do I enjoy building relationship with people, but I find that the majority of the deals you do, you do them because you build a relationship with your clients. I don’t buy from anyone I don’t like, and I’m sure others don’t either!"

Thanks for talking to us, will you keep readers of this blog updated on your plans?

"With pleasure. Watch this space!"

 

The Pandaw Story

The Pandaw Story: On the Rivers of Burma and Beyond

by Paul Strachan
The story of how Pandaw built a river cruise business in one of the world's most repressive dictatorships.

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