Iglu Cruise’s bosses look back on the firm’s first 10 years and reveal plans to expand abroad. Hollie-Rae Merrick reports

Ten years ago London-based online agency chain Iglu was best known for selling ski.

It was the main focus of the business, but that all changed in 2006, when it began selling cruise and set its sights on capitalising on the growing sector.

Chief executive Richard Downs said at the time the business was looking to get into “something that wasn’t dependent on seasonality”, and an area where agents could add extra value to customers who were unsure what to book.

Downs and managing director Simone Clark claim Iglu was the first agency “actively pushing cruise online”, and say lines jumped at the chance to support them

“We spent a lot of time thinking about opportunities to grow the business,” Downs said. “We had the ski business for eight years before launching Iglu Cruise. We were looking for something that wasn’t dependent on seasonality and something where agents could add value and help advise customers.”

“There wasn’t anyone out there doing cruise online, not even the cruise lines were booking customers online at the time,” Clark said.

“When we launched we always knew we would be about online and being a bit disruptive, with the support of a call centre who could give customers additional advice and support.”

Initially half a dozen members of staff focussed on the cruise offering, and Clark also attributes the initial success of the business to support from well-known cruise industry figures such as Trevor Du Pont (Carnival UK); Michael English (Celebrity Cruises); Iain Baillie (Carnival Cruise Line); Giles Hawke (then Carnival UK, now Cosmos Tours and Cruises); and Steve Williams (Royal Caribbean International).

She said: “The launches of ships such as P&O Cruises’ Ventura and Royal’s Independence of the Seas really changed the dial for us. P&O wanted to reach a new audience and came to us. They had a huge marketing budget and offered us more coop marketing money than I’d spent the year before that. They wanted to do cost per click marketing.

“Cruise lines have always been extremely supportive of us but we gained a lot of momentum from those two ship launches.”

Downs claims the market was “calling out” for someone to represent cruise online, and Iglu Cruise filled that gap.

Within five years, the growth of the cruise side of the business had overtaken ski, and the growth continued to accelerate following Iglu’s acquisition of rival Planet Cruise three years ago.

Planet was about a third of the size of Iglu, with “no technology systems in place” and an “archaic” system, the pair said. However, the agency’s TV show, combined with the expertise of the “extremely destination focussed” Planet team, and their ability to tailor make unique packages, meant it was extremely valuable to Iglu’s future growth ambitions.

Under the Iglu ownership, Planet’s revenues have doubled.

The duo are now looking to the future and have their eyes firmly set on international expansion.

Downs said they were likely to begin expanding next year and said the next few months would involve ensuring all “ducks were aligned”. He wouldn’t reveal whether he was looking to set up abroad or to acquire existing firms, and said he was currently weighing up “further afield” English speaking markets against “closer to home” options.

The combined Iglu businesses make £200 million in revenues, and Downs is hoping to double that in the next five years.

The agency is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a party for senior management and suppliers next month.

Iglu Cruise: By numbers

Iglu’s cruise business was set up in 2006 with just six staff.

It now employs 300, including more than 70 homeworkers based in countries such as Germany, Spain, Saint Lucia, Canada, France, Holland, 
Italy and Poland.

The agency acquired Planet Cruise three years ago, which is also celebrating its 10th birthday this year.

Iglu Cruise has sent more 
than 500,000 people cruising –almost enough to fill the Queen Mary 2 190 times over.

The Iglu team has visited more than 100 ocean and river ships over the past decade.