Seamus Conlon, chief executive of Cruise.co.uk, talks to Lucy Huxley about the homeworking agency’s expansion plans and being the second-most popular cruise website in the UK
Cruise specialist homeworking agency Cruise.co.uk is looking for another 30 experienced travel consultants to join its 140-strong sales team this year.
Managing director Seamus Conlon said the lack of knowledgeable sales consultants was the only thing holding back the company’s expansion.
It turned over £121 million last year and was “highly profitable”, according to Conlon. It aims to turn over £150 million in 2017.
Investment in staff
Speaking in Villars, Switzerland, at his 11th annual sales conference for cruise line partners, he said: “The key to Cruise.co.uk’s success has been the investment made in our homeworkers. We really promote the individual consultant as a brand and as a professional, knowledgeable, experienced agent they [customers] can trust.
“We do this by giving our agents their own Facebook pages and blogs, plus a minimum budget of £10 a week to promote them. The better they become at promoting themselves and increasing their profile – measured by traffic, views, likes and interactions – the more money they get.”
Conlon revealed Cruise.co.uk spent “well into seven figures” on Facebook marketing. “We bring the customers into the main Cruise.co.uk site, so we provide the initial leads, but then we want them to create a relationship with our individual consultants.”
He said Cruise.co.uk, which secured a £52 million investment from private equity company Bridgepoint Capital last year to fund further expansion in the UK and internationally, differed from other homeworking firms as all employees work full-time and are guaranteed at least £20,000 a year plus commission, pension and holidays.
“The better our agents become at promoting themselves, the more money they get.”
Conlon said the average salary in 2016 was £26,000, with his top 15 consultants earning in excess of £50,000. All consultants bring in at least £1 million worth of revenue, with top sellers contributing up to £4 million each.
“The vast majority of our consultants are aged over 40; 70% are female, and they have an average of 12 years’ experience each. We are really proud that only 13% of our consultants leave the business each year.” Conlon said he fully expected to take 30 new recruits from competitors.
He claimed his customer repeat level was 65%, according to analysis by BDO, and said a word cloud of the 62,000 comments customers had left on the Facebook pages of his consultants returned the word “helpful” more times than any other.
The strategy, he said, had helped Cruise.co.uk become the second-most visited cruise website in the UK after P&O Cruises’ website (pitched against all cruise line and cruise agent websites), according to Hitwise figures.
Conlon said revenues had been boosted in the past year by the sale of more packages.
“When we create our own packages, the aim is not to create cheap options,” he said.
“We want to put more into the package – such as airport lounges, fast‑track boarding, luggage allowances and private transfers – so everything is taken care of. The more things we include to make the holiday really good, the more likely the customer is to come back and book with us again.”
Conlon said the average value of a package was just under £5,000, compared to just under £3,000 for a standard cruise.
“Packages accounted for just 30% of our sales three years ago,” he added. “Now they represent 40% and we would like to get it to half of everything we sell.”
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