Opinion: Marketing and customer service are key to growth in a downturn

Opinion: Marketing and customer service are key to growth in a downturn

Seamus Conlon, managing director, cruise.co.uk

As the UK’s largest online cruise travel agent we are often asked how we have consistently grown our business during tough economic times.

We believe the answer is great marketing and excellent customer service – sounds simple but most businesses don’t have this at the heart of their business model.

Last week we announced that we would be taking on a further 20 home workers to support the team of 20 cruise specialists we already employ as well as 25 staff based at our Redditch offices.

Born from a traditional high street travel business, we soon realised that both cruise and the electronic world could be joined to produce a highly effective business model.

Our agency web site cruise.co.uk and online forum community cruises.co.uk with over 51,000 members are some of the most popular in the UK – not just the travel industry.

With 126,000 unedited reviews and opinions we are the largest cruise review site in the UK and we are looking at expanding this figure even further by giving away a choice of three Fodor’s guides for 2012.

In addition we also have a database of 190,000 Q&As, which means that no other cruise web site in the UK has such as wealth of practical info for the new cruiser or veteran traveller.

Some might say, of course, it helps that we specialise in the fastest growing area of travel. If we hadn’t had the Costa Concordia sinking and the fire on Costa Allegra at the beginning of 2012, the market would still be moving well above industry rates.

As cruise experts we know that our loyal customer base love cruising and our mixture of exceptional customer service and competitive pricing ensures that once we have captured a customer they are twice as likely to book with us again.

While most of the industry was worried that the Concordia would have a devastating effect on the business, we knew that many of our customers would look on the incident as a chance to grab a bargain.

So where do we go from here? Our technology backbone ensures that all our staff know exactly what is happening with our customers as well as the business.

We give autonomy to our team to make the right decisions for the business and above all we encourage them to cruise regularly and pass on their personal experiences to our customers.

As far as driving new traffic to our web sites, our visitors are up 15% on the same period in 2011, with little or no Google advertising, a mainstay of the industry.

While I’m not going to give away all our secrets, we’re confident that we’ve got it right and will be looking for further expansion in 2013 with river cruises and luxury cruising leading the way.

Seamus Conlon's views on current trading in the travel industry are due to be discussed at next Tuesday's Barclays Travel Forum in London

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