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Is the growing UK cruise set to become a new vertical for the mainstream OTA retail sector? It seems it is.
In the week that the largest ever ship built for UK market leader P&O Cruises was officially named by The Queen, getting cruise onto online agency websites is top of the agenda.
On Monday dnata, the new owner of cruise retailer Imagine Cruising told Travolution’s sister title Travel Weekly that the acquisition will allow it to develop online sales.
Central to this could be a presence for cruise on that other dnata-owned UK retailer Travel Republic.
Iain Andrew, divisional senior vice-president of dnata’s travel business, said Travel Republic boasted a “remarkably diverse” customer database which offered an opportunity for Imagine’s bespoke Masterpiece Collection, as well as regular itineraries.
Robin Deller, managing director of Imagine, added: “The deal gives us the opportunity to sell cruise to Travel Republic customers.
“We have done a little testing and the results were what we wanted, so we can now do something more significant.”
Asked about Travel Republic’s traditional focus on beach holidays, Deller said:
“If you don’t have the skills [to specialise], it’s best to stay out of it, which is what Travel Republic has done to date. Now, though, we can bring that expertise.”
Separately, the new boss of Norwegian Cruise Line, Brit Andy Stuart told Travel Weekly that the UK was likely to see online giants like Expedia move into cruise as it has in the US.
He said four years ago the sector barely registered for Expedia, but was given main-stage presence at a conference the online giant ran last year in the US.
“There are many travel partners of all different sizes presenting cruise effectively online,” he said. Online agents have shied away from cruise because it’s a tricky sell, but Stuart said Expedia was following an offline conversion model driving leads to call centres.
Stuart took over the role of president and chief operating officer after 26 years with the company, succeeding Drew Madsen who had been in place just six months.
Cruise is set to undergo another period of significant supply growth with a succession of mega-ships set to be launched this year and more on the way.
The UK cruise market is the world’s second largest behind the US with 1.7 million annual customers, although Germany is catching up fast.