Cruiseco plots bright future

THE Cruiseco consortium is ushering in its 20th year with significant transformation and investment in the business, but remains committed to its core mission of supporting the growth of its members’ travel agencies. Last month the 19th annual Cruiseco Conference took place in Auckland, and continued the group’s revolution which has been led over the last 18 months by its newly appointed CEO, Amanda McClelland.

McClelland, who has a strong background in IT, has successfully implemented a major makeover of Cruiseco’s technology systems, telling travelBulletin the project had involved a total investment “in the seven figures”. The update has included the development of a new dynamic packaging booking system for agents, underpinned by an Odysseus back-end but enhanced and expanded to meet Cruiseco’s unique needs. Funding for the project was secured from the Cruiseco board, including part-owners and co-founders Phil Hoffmann and Kevin Dale alongside majority shareholder APT Travel Holdings.

The outcome is the new CruisePro platform, which gives agents the ability to pull together cruises, flights and accommodation to create their own packages, as well as sell product from the extensive Cruiseco-curated array of fly/cruise deals. McClelland said it was vital that Cruiseco adapt to the changing market, particularly as booming levels of capacity have seen cruise lines look at ever-widening avenues for distribution. And while a number of new cruise wholesale competitors have emerged, McClelland noted the unique differences of Cruiseco. “We exist solely to grow our members’ businesses,” she told travelBulletin, with the consortium aiming to help agents navigate the evolving market. Co-founder Kevin Dale echoed the comments, and hailed McClelland’s honest and inclusive approach to business operations which had resulted in strong relationships at all levels.

One significant shift has been a refocus of the business away from charters, which previously were a significant commitment for Cruiseco. The consortium continues to curate its very successful music-based departures and has also launched a partnership with P&O and Mat McLachlan Battlefield Tours for a World War II historical cruise visiting Papua New Guinea, but the changing market has meant dedicated charters are more difficult these days. A significant new initiative for Cruiseco has been the release of its own dedicated brochure range, featuring a range of fly, cruise and stay holidays in Europe, Alaska and now Asia. Showcasing the consortium’s 54-strong portfolio of cruise line partners, the unique brochures allow agents to more easily help select the ideal cruise for each client, while the new IT platform enables this to be customised or tweaked as required.

Cruiseco is also continuing to evolve its offering for members, which increasingly incorporates digital marketing partnerships enabled by the new technology platform. White-label websites complete with booking engines and payment gateways are available to Cruiseco agents, along with a host of marketing options which directly build members’ own databases.

McClelland said that with about 250 members currently, Cruiseco is “always happy to talk” to prospective new agents who think the consortium would be a good fit.

The profile of Cruiseco in the Australasian cruising sector was highlighted by the strong representation from cruise line executives at the Auckland conference. The 220-strong attendance included Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings regional chief Steve Odell, Carnival Australia CEO Sture Myrmell, Royal Caribbean International Vice President Susan Bonner, Adam Armstrong from Silversea, Crystal’s Karen Christensen and many more industry leaders. The unique format invited presenters to simply speak about one of their passions, rather than focusing on specific product offerings –something that was particularly appreciated by the highly experienced cruise sellers in attendance.

Next year’s Cruiseco conference will fittingly take place at sea, aboard Royal Caribbean’s Voyager of the Seas as she cruises between Sydney and Melbourne.