Special Report: Bricks and mortar agencies in the sights of Aussie cruise consortium

Special Report: Bricks and mortar agencies in the sights of Aussie cruise consortium

Cruiseco has announced its intention to bring its niche consortium to the UK. Melanie Hall hears from its bosses about its plans ahead of the official launch in November

Australian cruise agency consortium Cruiseco is entering the British market by opening a UK office and buying high-profile domain address Cruising.co.uk.

The office in Birmingham will be the consortium’s first outside of Australia, where most of its 230 independent travel agent members are based.

Mark Walter, Cruiseco manager for the UK and Ireland, described the expansion as “a big step”.

He said Cruiseco, which launched in 2000, hopes to attract independently-owned, bricks-and-mortar UK agents who currently do little or no cruise business.

Explaining that some smaller, independent agents can be paid little attention by the cruise lines, Walter said: “As we are cruise‑specific, we can give them all the benefits and help them have a cruise business.”

Walter, a former head of sales at Royal Caribbean International, aims to launch in the UK in November. He is recruiting a small team of staff to handle reservations, operations, sales and marketing.

Cruiseco is happy for members to be part of another consortium at the same time, he said.

“We have no problems with that,” said Walter, adding: “I’m not sure if the other organisations feel the same way, but as we are so specific to cruising, it’s hard to make a comparison.”

Consumers will use the 
Cruising.co.uk site to reserve their chosen cruise. The consortium will then pass the booking to a relevant member according to factors such as the agent’s location or the cruise line chosen. The agent will then contact the customer to follow up the booking and take the payment.

In some cases, consumers will be able to buy selected cruises using the website alone.

“For agents, it’s incredibly good value because it’s a great domain that will generate bookings,” said Walter.

Among the benefits being offered to prospective members are support and access to products exclusive to Cruiseco, which charters its own ships. More details will be released in the coming weeks.

Walter was unable to reveal details of the commission rates he aimed to secure for members, but said they would be “attractive, competitive commissions”.

According to Cruiseco chief executive and founder Steve Lloyd, the consortium’s Abta and Atol applications are “well advanced”, and commercial terms have been agreed with a range of cruise lines.

Lloyd added that the company had paid a “significant sum” for the Cruising.co.uk domain, but declined to reveal from whom it had been bought. It will operate alongside the consortium’s Australian site, at Cruising.com.au.

Walter also stressed that there were key differences between Cruiseco’s website and that of Cruise.co.uk. He said the consortium’s online platform would predominantly act as a portal for its members, and somewhere that customers could get booking information, rather than as a direct sales platform.

“We are more of an intermediary,” explained Walter.

“But in the long term, we have the potential to be a big player.”

Cruiseco said it had been receiving a “great deal of interest” from agents keen on the idea of a ‘one-stop shop’ for cruise support.

“There’s definitely a desire for this,” he added.

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