The agency was the first in the UK to specialise in cruise, owner and managing director Edwina Lonsdale tells Juliet Dennis about its first half-century
Q. Mundy Cruising, based in central London, celebrates its 50th anniversary on October 1. Tell us about it roots.
A. It was started in 1970 by Paul and Judith Mundy. It was a turbulent time, as it is now. That year, the first Boeing 747 flew from New York to London; it was the start of mass air travel. Paul had worked for the family shipping business. They decided in the 1960s there was no future in passenger shipping and to focus on cargo. Paul was not prepared to believe there would be so little appetite for travel by sea so he set up a specialist cruise agency. No one else had that vision. Paul has been my mentor. I worked for them for 10 years before buying the business in 1999. Back then we had 14 staff, now we have 29. Our business is older than most of the cruise lines we sell.
Q. What’s the secret to trading for 50 years?
A. Integrity, honesty, loyalty, supportiveness. We look after our loyal clients. Customers select Mundy Cruising because they put a value on personal contact and high levels of recognition and service from the same person over time.
“It wasn’t until The Love Boat TV show in the late 1970s that people started to think of cruising as a normal holiday. It had always been thought of as glamorous.”
Q. How has the cruise industry changed over the past 50 years?
A. In the 1970s, there was only the QE2 – she had been launched in 1969 and was doing transatlantic journeys and a bit of cruising – and some others, like Norwegian America Line. It wasn’t until The Love Boat TV show in the late 1970s that people started to think of cruising as a normal holiday. It had always been thought of as glamorous. It wasn’t until the 1980s that you saw a transformation into cruising holidays. Before that, there wasn’t a huge amount of product and demand was relatively low.
Then you saw the beginnings of mergers and acquisitions, and financiers taking notice. All the top luxury companies have their roots in the 1980s and 1990s. The industry was in its infancy until the 1990s when the huge build programmes started. As an agency, we decided to stick with what we were good at, which is individual, personal service, and selling small ships in the top-end sector rather than the mass market. It was a big decision. In this decade, we have seen a transformation in luxury river cruises, but the big one has been expedition cruising.
Q. When did Mundy Cruising first recognise the potential of selling expedition cruises?
A. Our Mundy Adventures programme – a portfolio of our expedition, river and ocean product – was created in 2008. Expedition is something we’ve been doing for a very long time. We’re now seeing a regeneration of that. We see this as an important factor in cruising of the future; it’s what people will be looking for. We have a separate website for Mundy Adventures; we market to those customers with a different voice.
“As an agency, we decided to stick with what we were good at, which is individual, personal service, and selling small ships in the top-end sector rather than the mass market.”
Q. What challenges has the business faced over the years?
A. The aftermath of 9/11 was tough as we had only recently bought the company, so we were quite vulnerable. We had to speedily restructure our debt, but we learnt lots of lessons which have been invaluable over the years, informing our business decisions and enabling us to focus at times of crisis on what is important. All these have been lessons for the ultimate crisis – coronavirus.
Q. How do you view the short-term future for cruise?
A. Who could have predicted this pandemic, even in their worst-case planning? We have always been cautious and kept a lot of cash in the business so we are really well-positioned to go forward. The cruise industry will come back gradually. I don’t think there will be much up and running next year but ships will be brought back and I don’t think there is any question about pent-up demand. People are going to recognise that no other sector is doing more than cruise to keep its client base safe. Going forward, cruising will be recognised as the safest way to travel. Only 2% of our customers say they won’t cruise again. There is a very bullish, positive attitude among clients.
“I don’t think there will be much up and running next year but ships will be brought back and I don’t think there is any question about pent-up demand.”
How will you celebrate 50 years of trading?
We’d had such big plans for our 50th anniversary – it was set to be an excellent year. We were going to have a customer event and take our top suppliers out. But we haven’t been able to do any of the things we’d planned. I am still going to visit Mundy Cruising founders Paul and Judith Mundy for lunch on the day. They are not involved in the business any more – we bought them out in 1999 – but they are two of our best clients!
I’m taking a crock of gold – a porcelain ‘golden’ bowl – of gifts to give them. I’ve got gold chocolate coins, Ferrero Rocher chocolates, Werther’s Original sweets, Gold Blend coffee, golden syrup . . . in fact, I can’t fit it all in the bowl! I had invited people who had worked with Paul and Judith – we were going to be 12 for lunch – but that went out the window because of the virus, so now it’s just going to be them and me.
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