Big Interview: Dnata's Iain Andrew and Imagine Cruising's Robin Deller

Big Interview: Dnata's Iain Andrew and Imagine Cruising's Robin Deller

Dnata Travel has continued its acquisition strategy by taking a majority stake in cruise-and-stay retailer Imagine Cruising. Lucy Huxley spoke exclusively to dnata’s Iain Andrew and Imagine Cruising’s Robin Deller about the appeal of the tie-up and their plans to ensure its success

The ink is not quite dry on the agreement that will see dnata Travel acquire a 51% stake in Swindon-based Imagine Cruising – the deal is subject to regulatory approval in South Africa, where both companies have travel interests.

But the final step is “not expected to be a difficult procedure and should complete in April/May”, according to Iain Andrew, dnata’s divisional senior vice-president, who declined to reveal the transaction value.

The deal follows dnata’s acquisitions in the UK of Travel Republic, Gold Medal and, most recently, Stella Travel Services UK – all since December 2011.

Andrew said: “We wanted to expand our product portfolio and cruise is where we needed to develop a broader offering. This deal allows us to focus on two key areas of growth – our international strategy and new-to-cruise.”

Imagine impresses

He said dnata had already been working with Imagine co-founders Robin Deller and Natalie Legg in Dubai, where the pair were hoping to emulate the success of their operation in South Africa, offering cruising to a new source market.

Talks had begun with dnata to supply flying for the venture, but Andrew said: “We were focused initially on our Dubai relations, which were very small compared to volumes in the UK, but it was starting to get good pick-up by ex-pats and UAE nationals. But as we got to know Robin and Natalie, we became extremely impressed by their capability and decided to explore the partnership further.”

Imagine Cruising managing director Deller said: “We demonstrated in Africa, where there was no appetite initially, that there is plenty of opportunity as long as you offer product and market in a way that’s relevant. We saw results that were outstanding in a short period of time, so after our success there, the UAE became a clear opportunity for us.”

Andrew said Imagine’s blueprint in South Africa and in the UAE could act as a springboard to launch similar cruise operations in other markets where dnata has “assets and distribution” and that these would be identified in time.

Deller explained Imagine worked in three ways: acting as an agent for lines with cruise brochures; tailor-making options by adding a few nights before and after sailings; and offering a ‘Masterpiece Collection’ service by which it creates bespoke “bucket list” itineraries, such as combining the Orient-Express with an Italian lakes holiday followed by a Mediterranean cruise.

“What we’re good at is identifying customers and trying what products work best for them. But it takes time,” said Deller.

Dnata cruise plans

Asked how the Imagine Cruising acquisition might affect dnata’s other acquisitions of Gold Medal and Stella Travel Services, Andrew said: “Imagine Cruising brings a deep understanding of a key travel market, one which will enhance the product offering of each company within the dnata family.

“It’s the only area of overlap, and we need to sit down and work out where it slots in, but we made this investment so that our cruise interests in the UK can be led by Robin and his team.

“Imagine will lead the strategic development of cruise across dnata travel brands offering customers of Travel Republic, Gold Medal Travel Group and Stella Travel Services an enhanced choice of unique cruise holidays.”

He added: “We also need to see how it can work with Emirates Holidays and dnata Travel in the Middle East. We will work out where across the business we can get the biggest return and start there.”

Deller said there would be no structural changes as a result of the deal, with everyone in his team remaining in place.

“The only change is that we will have additional needs so there will be job opportunities and career opportunities as we grow.”

This is the second time Deller has built up and sold a cruise retailer to a larger player. He previously sold cruise and ski specialist Fast Track Travel to Virgin Holidays in 2007 so the operator could create Virgin Cruises.

He said: “It’s not been strategic. We’re just very good at differentiating, and being different and successful is very attractive to investors. I’m very proud of it and it’s a new and exciting era for me now. There’s a lot that we can look forward to and I’m very excited about the opportunity.”


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