Christopher Jackson meets a charismatic MD with a profound love for the life opportunities that come with working in travel
I must admit that I didn’t know much about cruises until I spoke to Scenic Cruises head Richard Twynam. Twynam is affable and enthusiastic – he strikes me, even at one remove over Zoom, as a man unusually happy in his job: ““I work in travel because I went round the world when I was 18 in 1990,” he recalls. “That was before Internet and mobile phones and I knew within weeks of being in Australia I wanted to spend my career in travel .”
Over time he would specialise in the sector he has come to love, and in which he is one of the leading figures. “I fell into cruising in 2010 having seen a managing director’s job for a Virgin brand advertised in The Sunday Times and I got the job: I was one of the youngest managing directors at Virgin at the time. In those days cruising wasn’t as mainstream as it is now.” Twynam stayed at Virgin for three years before running a brand for Royal Caribbean, a role which he began in 2013 and which you guess added depth to his experience.
Of course, in 2020, everyone was about to experience the great shock of the pandemic. But after a few years taking on advisory roles in the industry, Twynam was approached in 2022 for his current role: “It was too good an offer to say no,” he tells me.
So how does his current role divide up? “I live in Surrey and the office is in Manchester – I’m passionate about that city, it has such great energy. I spend three days a week there, meeting the team, looking at the numbers and being very involved with the operational side.”
Scenic Cruises is an owner-founder business and so it’s crucial for Twynam to have a good relationship with Glen and Karen Moroney, which he certainly does. “Glen and Karen started the business 36 years ago,” says Twynam, “and they’re rightly very protective and proud of it. If they don’t like something, they’ll tell you – but more generally they’re excited about the benefits of the new yachts.”
What you most feel when talking to Twynam, is the notion that cruises are an exciting frontier in the world of travel. “Cruising has evolved massively not just in the last decade but over the past 20 years,” he explains. “The great thing is there’s a cruise for every one – for every taste or price point. If you want a low key cruise you can do that, but if you want to go paddle-boarding on a cruises you can do that.” Then comes what will to many be his clinching argument: “You only have to unpack your suitcase once and wake up to a different location each day. That’s why 2023 is likely to be a record year for cruising.”
It does seem as disaster-proof as a holiday can reasonably get: a mixture of luxury and adventure which will appeal to many. The company has two brands: Scenic Cruises and Emerald Cruises.
The flagship of the company is Scenic Eclipse. “We call that the world’s first discovery yacht,” says Twynam. “It means you go to the wildest places on earth in complete luxury. For instance, you can go to the heart of Antarctica, and explore all that but then come back at the end of your day to a luxury yacht experience. Above, you have a helicopter and below you have a submarine.”
The Emerald cruise ships meanwhile are, says Twynam, “slightly smaller, and designed for warmwater coastal cruising. The ships looks like a James Bond villain’s favourite yacht, with beautiful sleek lines. They’re designed for coastal cruising in Croatia and Greece, and can winter in the Caribbean.”
So what sort of luxury do customers experience on board? “Scenic Eclipse has eight restaurants, a spa, and a watersports platform on the back with all the toys,” explains Twynam. “Emerald has the same. You’ve also got a butler, a whisky bar with over a hundred scotches. We’re reassuringly expensive. Of course you can spend £150,000 by taking the main suite on the Eclipse, but equally Emerald is £3,000 per person for the Grecian cruise.”
So what is it Twynam loves about cruising? “It’s a gentle way to see the world,” he says without missing a beat. “You’re gliding down the river watching the world go by. It’s not an intensive holiday. We’ve got these big lounges and it’s a marvellous thing to just watch the world go by. The ship is your conveyance to see the land; it always amazes me how as human beings we’re drawn to the water.”
That this is true is reflected in the demand for the company’s experiences, and therefore the size of the company. Scenic Cruises employs 120 people. “That covers all the facets of running a business: financial, commercial, marketing, digital, reservations, and sales,” Twynam explains. “A high proportion of our workforce is under 30; many are under 25. A lot of them have a passion to work in travel, and many have done degrees or been to college. One of my commercial analysts has got two more degrees than I’ve got. There are lot of opportunities if you want something easy to learn and want to learn quite quickly. But if you have a particular skillset – whether that be in social media, studio or marketing – we have roles there too.”
And, of course, there’s a whole different set of employment opportunities around the ships themselves. “Working on a ship is a glamorous thing to do. We have a British submarine pilot on Scenic Eclipse. You’ve also got culinary roles, hotel function, guest service, tour leading, and many other things.”
Of course, all these roles also attract travel perks. “I’m going on one of our yachts tomorrow,” he says, enthusiastically. “We also want out staff to benefit from friends and family offers – we want it to be clear that there are major benefits to working in the travel industry.”
Twynam adds that there other, deeper benefits to a career in the sector. “A lot of the younger guys who work for us recognise that the more they travel and understand the world, the more it’s an opportunity to break down prejudice and misunderstanding. They’re passionate that if we live on this planet we should understand everyone’s cultures. I’ve worked in the travel industry for 29 years and had some amazing life experiences.”
And the challenges? Twynam doesn’t mince words. “Of course, travel by its nature is highly operational and you have to deal with that. We all know what can happen: the plane gets delayed or the hotel booking gets cancelled. One of the vagaries of cruising in Europe is that you get high and low water which can be challenging for different reasons. On the high seas, you have the weather to contend with – and that’s before you get to the question of strikes and so on. But in the last years we’ve had the tsunami in Japan, and the ash cloud over Iceland. As a sector we’ve become extremely experienced and dealing with things.”
And with that he says a genial goodbye, no doubt pleased to be heading on his cruise tomorrow, leaving me to write about him in the cold March weather. I am briefly sure which of the two of us has the better lot in life.
For more information go to scenic.co.uk