Start-up offers agents chance to compete on cruise excursions

Online start-up is offering travel agents the chance to break into the lucrative cruise excursions market with prices said to be up to 60% lower than cruise lines charge.

The Birmingham-based specialist is targeting the fast-growing dynamic packaging cruise market, a sector expected to see rapid expansion since Complete Cruise Solution’s cut to 5% commission.

The site will sell direct to consumers but agents are being offered up to 8% commission and Cruising Excursions has vowed to never undercut the trade.

Founder Simon Purchase, who previously worked for failed online agent Sun4U, said the company would give cruise lines in Europe their first real taste of competition for excursions. He expects an equal proportion of trade and direct business.

“I do not believe the cruise lines provide value for money at the moment. The commission cuts have worked in our favour. Dynamic cruising is a growing market in the cruise sector.

“People will be looking for alternatives. We see this as potentially turning the cruise industry on its head. I see agents using excursions to sell cruises – it’s an untouched, untapped revenue stream.”

Cruising Excursions has contracted all of its excursions, mimicking some of the programmes cruise lines offer, and also bringing in some of its own unique ‘quirky’ tours.

At launch this week the firm had 1,000 individual excursions in 240 European cruise ports up to the end of 2012 and there are plans to expand to cover the Americas, the Caribbean and Australasia.

Agents can work in two ways, either by taking a promotional code that customers use when booking and that is unique to that agent which shares revenue with Cruising Excursions.

Earnings are negotiable, and agents may want to set their own margin, but if they opt to work through a ‘travel professionals’ section of the website to book the excursion programme for their customers they earn a guaranteed full commission of 8%

“Not only are we cheap, we believe we offer an enhanced product because we are offering private tours. Cruise lines base prices on 40 customers on a coach we can offer tours for just four people and we are still cheaper,” Purchase said.

“We believe we can operate at an achievable margin that’s sustainable. Cruise line have either been operating at quite a high margin or their contracting is not as good.

“Travel agents, many of whom have become cruise experts, who usually find the job stops after the cruise is sold will now have the chance to fully immerse themselves in the whole itinerary and earn valuable extra income.”

Cruising Excursions has added a ‘Seashore Academy’ trade training section to the website and plans to run fam trips to European ports towards the end of this summer.

Discussions have started with travel technology firms about developing XML and API feeds and there are also plans to offer agent partners a white label solution. Affinity groups will also be added under which visitors to the site can register for a tour that requires a minimum number of customers and book it once it is filled.

Purchase said he has a full digital marketing strategy planned and that social media will play a major role with customer encouraged to leave reviews and upload pictures. The site features a live chat facility and will also sell transfers and day rooms for guests who have time to kill between disembarkation and their flight home.

On the site excursions are searchable by cruise itinerary, displayed on Google Maps, and also by excursion type including walking tours, historical, scenic and religious. Excursions suitable for customers with mobility issues are indicated with an icon.

Customers build up and save a wish list of the excursions they want to do as they research their trip and once they are happy with their selection can move on to the booking section. 

Collections of tours suitable for certain types of customer, like first timers, will be put together in ‘essentials packages’ capable of being booked as a group to save people the time researching.

Purchase said all the operators have been vetted to make sure they are properly insured and offer high levels of service. A two-hour buffer has been worked into each excursion to ensure customers get back to their ships and Cruising Excursions has joined Abta and offers free cancellations up to 14 days before departure.

The operator vows to return customers to their ship at the next port of call in the event of them missing a departure and will try to replace excursions in the event of the ship missing ports.

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