Steve Jones’ Say

A little over 18 months ago, Flight Centre announced plans to shut down generalist retailer Escape Travel, and Cruiseabout, its dedicated cruise network. It was one of Flight Centre’s more puzzling moves, at least in part.

If consigning Escape Travel to history appeared to make sense given it largely occupied the same space as Flight Centre, the same could not be said of Cruiseabout.

A dedicated network of shops selling a product that experienced years of rapid growth. It was hard to believe — as I argued at the time — that Flight Centre would not experience a downturn in sales.

The retailer now appears to speak of Cruiseabout with misty-eyed nostalgia. It was, indeed, a strong brand, loved by suppliers, and missed by customers, it says.

“We definitely saw an immediate impact in terms of a decline in sales,” Travel Associates General Manager, Danielle Galloway told Travel Daily. “I think that’s evident that cruise customers want to walk into that specialised cruise business.”

That is hardly a surprise, particularly for people new to cruising who want to be walked and talked through the product.

To those in the industry familiar with cruising — its variety of ships, the voyage options, on-board facilities and attractions, dining choices — it may seem easy to navigate. For first time cruisers, particularly those nervous of taking to the seas and still wondering if it’s really their cup of tea, the complexities can be intimidating. No one wants to choose the wrong ship.

To that end, Cruiseabout was the ideal go-to travel retailer.

Flight Centre already had that specialist cruise business, referenced by Galloway, that consumers could walk into.

Sure, Cruiseabout wasn’t a hugely extensive network. Nevertheless, the suspicion, a correct one as it turned out, was that Flight Centre’s cruise sales would fall.

Enter Cruise Boutique, a dedicated brand that will launch initially into 14 Travel Associates shops, rising to 20 by the end of the year.

Essentially, Flight Centre has relaunched into the cruise market, with Travel Associate agencies undergoing a redesign to reflect the new push.

It seems the renewed cruise focus may have come directly from the top.

Skroo Turner, perhaps realising something was missing in the wake of Cruiseabout’s demise, apparently conceded that it needed “to do something”, having recognised there is a cruise customer and a cruise advisor but no brand to bring the two together.

Cruise Boutique will, the retailer enthused, offer “true expertise in ocean, river and expedition cruising”. Flight Centre had all that 18 months ago.

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