Big Interview: Fraser Ellacott, managing director of Thomson Cruises

Big Interview: Fraser Ellacott, managing director of Thomson Cruises

Being new to the cruise industry allows Ellacott to bring new ideas to the table. Lee Hayhurst finds out how he plans to give cruise a prominent profile in stores

Thinking differently about cruise isn’t much of a stretch for the boss of the UK’s third-largest operator by passenger volume.

Fraser Ellacott had never stepped on board a cruise ship before taking over from his long-serving predecessor David Selby at the cruise line, although he says his wife had previously suggested they give cruise a go.

Ellacott has been lined up to speak at Ace Columbus Day, the second part of this year’s UK Cruise Convention, aimed at senior managers and experienced cruise agents.

The theme of the day is Think Differently, and the ambition is to inspire delegates to come up with strategies to sell more cruise.

Reflecting on his 16 months in the role after spending 20 years in aviation, firstly with British Airways and then with First Choice and Thomson, Ellacott said: “In many ways it’s gone by in a flash, in others it feels like years.

“I have allowed myself to be consumed by the cruise industry because it was so new to me, which was part of the attraction.

“In Tui, cruise is effectively a business within a business run as a separate profit and loss account and it’s very much that: you have this whole business to run with the exception of distribution.

“It’s a great business and very much one, which over the last year and a half, we have tried to refocus within Tui for it to continue to be a core part of our offering for the future.”

This strategy was most obviously underlined with the recent announcement that two of the cruise line’s ships are to undergo a multimillion-pound 
refit to bring them up to Tui’s Platinum Collection level.

Work is due to start on Thomson Dream this winter and then Thomson Celebration will gets its facelift next year in time for the 2013 summer season.

While product quality is very much a focus for Ellacott, so is the way it is sold. Being part of a vertically integrated company with a large retail estate, Ellacott is uniquely placed to help cruise truly become mainstream.

“Because I am new to cruise I am not coming at this from the perspective of someone who has well‑established views. I will be looking at all the angles,” he said.

Cruise is starting to enjoy a much more prominent profile in Tui’s stores and the line is planning to launch new training in-house and for third-party agents, as well as ramping up its ship visit programme.

Ellacott believes cruise-and-stay holidays are the perfect way to introduce the sector to a new audience, and he’s conscious of not being too messianic when pushing the cruise message.

“We have not got to be Billy Graham-esque [Christian evangelist] about this, in that it must be cruise to the exclusion of everything else, but it’s got to be a consideration for people and for a lot of people, it’s not currently.”

Ace's Columbus Day event takes place at the Burlington Hotel in Birmingham on September 20. Tickets are still available - register at cruiseexperts.org

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