US-based leisure travel rewards and membership programme specialist International Cruise and Excursions is planning continued expansion in the UK after a recent spending spree.
In recent months the firm has snapped up a number of online/call centre retailers in the UK cruise market, including 1st4cruising, Ideal Cruising and WeCruise.
The model, backed by propriety technology developed in the US, requires customers to sign up to take advantage the unique packages it offers. In the UK it has a partnership with timeshare holiday exchange giant RCI and in the US has just launched a membership scheme for the giant Sears retail group.
Warren Joy, ICE Europe chief operating officer, said: “We took the strategic decision to look at brands in the UK that were maybe struggling a little bit and how the ICE model could rejuvinate them.
“The whole company has been built around our propriety technology to enable us to run rewards and membership programmes through various forms of opaque currency, either certificates or points.
“We have no intention of driving those brands in the traditional retail space. For us the whole retail model based around discounting and running after overrides just does not work.
“We are much more about engaging with the customer on not just a holiday but a lifestyle basis and rewarding them for activities within that whether they book a short haul break, a cruise, a spa break or a wine break this year or next.”
The ICE model allows customers to purchase a particular type of holiday at a certain price now and they receive a certificate for that value but do not have to pay the full amount immediately.
They can settle the balance over time in incremental payments and shop for the right deal for them on the ICE-powered website they are a member of at their leisure.
The firm has a global partnership with American Express so customers can use points as partial payment for a holiday or access some value-added offer.
Joy said: “The purchase of retail brands in the UK is something new for ICE, primarily not to just run online sites, that’s not the competitive advantage of the technology ICE has.
“The idea is to push customers into using the business model that we have. Our strategy is to get people to opt in, join the clubs and once they are in we will offer good value-added products.”
Joy estimated ICE will do about £8 million of business in open-ended itinerary certificates in the UK this year.
He would not rule out more brand acquisitions in the UK but said ICE was looking to partner with both travel and non-travel brands to give their customers a value-added holiday offering.
“It’s a very efficient model and we can bring a new brand onboard very quickly and easily because of the technology we have.
“We are not a traditional retailer so we do not have to go out and invest in key search terms and adwords.
“What we are looking for is customers who are perhaps loyal to a brand or familiar to a brand and that can be in the travel world or not.
“We decided because we were new to the UK that buying some existing brands was probably a way to get our story going.”