International Cruise and Excursions' recent spending spree in the UK has seen it acquire several cruise brands, and it's looking to expand further. Lee Hayhurst reports
US-based leisure travel rewards and membership programme specialist International Cruise and Excursions (Ice) is planning continued expansion in the UK after a recent spending spree.
In recent months, the firm has snapped up a number of online and call centre retailers in the UK cruise market, including 1st4cruising and Ideal Cruising, and it has secured a licence to operate WeCruise, the retailer that controversially bought the database of failed agent Gill’s Cruise Centre last year.
The Ice model, backed by inhouse technology developed in the US, requires customers to sign up for free to take advantage of the packages it offers.
In the UK it has a partnership with timeshare holiday exchange giant RCI. Globally it works with Virgin Blue in Australia and Singapore Airlines, and has just launched a membership scheme for US retail giant Sears.
Warren Joy, Ice chief operating officer for Europe, said: “We took the strategic decision to look at brands in the UK that were struggling a little bit to see how the Ice model could rejuvenate them.
“The whole company has been built around our proprietary technology to enable us to run rewards and membership programmes through various forms of opaque currency, either certificates or points.
“We have no intention of driving those brands in the traditional retail space. For us the whole retail model based around discounting and running after overrides just does not work.
“We are much more about engaging with the customer on not just a holiday, but a lifestyle basis and rewarding them for certain activities.”
The Ice model allows customers to purchase a particular type and duration of holiday lacking in the market. Customers receive a certificate but do not have to pay the full amount immediately.
They can settle the balance over time while shopping for the right deal for them on the Ice-powered website of which they are a member.
The firm has a global partnership with American Express so customers can use points as partial payment for a holiday or access some value-added offer.
Joy said: “The purchase of retail brands in the UK is something new for Ice, but we don’t just want to run online sites, as we wouldn’t be taking full advantage of Ice’s technology.
“The idea is to push customers into using the business model we have. Our strategy is to get people to opt in, join the clubs and once they are in we will offer value‑added products.”
Joy would not rule out more brand acquisitions in the UK but said Ice was looking to partner with travel and non-travel brands to give its customers a value-added holiday offering.
“It’s a very efficient model and we can bring a new brand onboard very quickly and easily.
“We are looking for customers who are loyal to a brand and that can be in the travel world or not.
“We decided, because we were new to the UK, that buying some existing brands was probably a way to get our story going.”
John Williams, Ice’s chief financial officer, admitted the UK consumer was still getting used to the firm’s retail model.
“It’s different, but I would say the UK absolutely gets it. If you want cheap and cheerful this is probably not the best solution.”
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