The boss of P&O Cruises has insisted agents’ support will be “vital” to developing the brand’s restart plans, despite claims the field sales team has been cut as part of a restructure at parent Carnival UK.

Paul Ludlow, president of P&O Cruises, said its commitment to the trade “remains as strong as ever” as a consultation that could see up to 450 jobs lost continues.

His comments came in response to claims from members of staff at Carnival UK that regional agent-facing sales teams at P&O and sister brands Cunard and Princess Cruises were set to be removed.

One staff member under consultation, who asked to remain anonymous, said the move was “completely the wrong decision”, claiming 60% of P&O Cruises’ UK bookings come from travel agents.

Agents also told Travel Weekly of redundancies in the trade sales teams, as well as senior staff going on long-term sabbaticals.

Carnival UK said no decisions would be made or communicated until the consultation finishes at the end of June.

However, a letter sent to staff confirmed it would not be making use of the government’s extended furlough scheme, which it said would “delay the inevitable need we have to right-size our business in order to sustain and protect it for the future”.

The letter also confirms sabbaticals were being discussed for some roles that were needed in the company’s long-term structure but not in the short term.

P&O Cruises has cancelled all sailings up to October, Cunard until November and Princess Cruises has cancelled all summer sailings as the industry battles the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a statement, Ludlow said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has not only affected the holidays of our guests but it has also impacted every part of our business; our future deployment; the guest experience; our supply chain and our people on ship and on shore. During our pause in operations we have tried to create as much certainty and stability as possible for our colleagues in the office as well as those on board.

“Unfortunately though, and similar to many businesses, as Covid-19 has continued to impact our way of life it is necessary to make changes to our organisation to build a stable platform for the time we phase our ships back into service and for future growth.

“We appreciate it is a very difficult and unsettling time for everyone but we are following a clear and fair consultation process and considering the suggestions put forward by each individual.

“I am so proud to see so many examples of absolute professionalism throughout this period with everyone supporting each other. The process is still continuing and no decisions will be made or communicated until we reach the conclusion at the end of the month.

“Our commitment to the travel trade remains as strong as ever and support from agents will be vital as we develop our re-start plans.”

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