Travel Republic says lower price points which have made cruise more accessible to mainstream holidaymakers encouraged its entry into the sector.
However, the leading UK online travel agent said it would be wrong to assume what its customer will buy, claiming to be seeing wallet values rise and an increase in four and five star holiday sales.
The Kingston-upon-Thames based agent started selling cruise on Tuesday through a tie-up with fellow dnata Travel-owned agency Imagine Travel, that will fulfil calls over the phone.
At launch there is no online booking engine, and exclusive deals for as little £599 per person per week are being promoted.
Ian Simmons, managing director commercial B-C Europe at dnata, said although cruise remains a more difficult sale than other sectors, it has become mainstream.
“It has taken a reasonable chunk of the package holiday market and it has been expanding for a number of years and more ships coming to the UK has increased awareness.
“That has made price points more accessible to people. You have pretty much got a price point for everyone today. It has definitely moved to the mainstream and that’s a real opportunity.”
Simmonds said Travel Republic has lots of consumers, and many of those take cruise holidays but currently have to go somewhere else to buy them.
The agency will sell a full range of cruises from leading lines, including a mix of exclusive deals provided by Imagine and cruise line packages.
But he said: “It’s really important not to assume what our customers want. We do not know. Early in the summer we did a few email blasts with Imagine and got some learnings from that.
“We have such a broad customer base it would be dangerous to assume that our customer would not take a higher price point or go somewhere more exotic.
“Our average price point varies by season, but when you look at our customers one thing that might surprise people is we have got a lot of people taking four and five star accommodation.
“We offer the whole broad spectrum of holiday options from two star to six star which is something Travel Republic has always championed through the many travel partners we have.
“What we have seen over the last few years, while traditional European beach destinations are still really important, there has been a definite uplift in more exotic long-haul destinations.
“They are all performing really well for us as confidence starts to return in the market and people are starting to trade up. Wallet size is starting to increase and that opens up some destinations.”
As well as existing customers who already cruise, Travel Republic believes its entry into the market will expose a sector for the first time to a new audience.
Cruise lines highly value agent partners who are able to drive new-to-cruise bookings but have to date been more inclined to work with cruise specialist retailers.
The cruise sector has been bedevilled by rampant discounting in the past due to the relatively high commissions which agents have used to compete for bargain-seeking customers.
Travel Republic’s entry into cruise has been broadly welcomed by the trade, including other agents and operators, although that goodwill was tempered with concern about the impact on prices.
Simmonds said bookings were coming from day one of offering cruise on the site and he did not rule out the possibility that Travel Republic might offer an online booking engine in the future.
He said this would be determined by what the customer wants. An initial marketing campaign expected to continue throughout January and beyond will take place online and via email.
“The natural place for us is pushing cruise through our online channels. It’s early days and we have seen some interesting and quite exciting results already.
“We are optimistic we will be able to beat our targets. If you look at where we’ve featured it on our website, we’ve given it quite good prominence.”
Imagine has taken on a small team of agents dedicated to fulfilling Travel Republic leads and Simmonds said there could be opportunities in the future for some of its head office staff.