River cruise ‘can rival ocean in five years’

Image result for Avalon Waterways

by Natasha Salmon

River cruise suppliers should “learn from the mistakes” of their ocean cruise counterparts to grow trade and consumer awareness, delegates at the Clia River Cruise Conference in Amsterdam were told.

Giles Hawke, chief executive of Avalon Waterways and Cosmos Tours, said he believed river cruising was currently 10 years behind ocean cruising in terms of marketing and awareness, but could reach a similar level within five years.

“There is a huge opportunity for river cruise as a sector to absolutely catch up with ocean cruise,” he said.

“We can learn so much from what the ocean cruise lines have done. They have, just because of their scale and size, been able to invest a lot of money and make mistakes and learn things.

“The river cruise lines can then continue to learn very quickly the aspects which have worked for ocean cruises and those which haven’t.

“I think each supplier must be clear what their one or two or three brand pillars are and the tangible differences. This is so travel agents can communicate to customers the key aspects of the river cruise lines because I don’t think anyone does that well and it all merges.”

The inaugural River Cruise Excellence awards were held on Saturday on the Tauck Grace.

Winner of the river ambassador of the year award, Margaret McCorriston, a homeworker for Iglu and Planet Cruise, agreed the suppliers needed to communicate their differences clearly to agents.

“I love river cruising and enjoy selling it to my customers but there are challenges we must face to help the sector grow.

“The main challenges are differentiating between the brands and this is crucial for attracting more customers but also agents to be able to sell to customers.

“Agents like myself who specialise in the river cruising are able to take the time to know the differences for ourselves but other agents are unable to do this so miss out.”

Cruise1st attracts potential buyers as owner Royal Caribbean puts agency up for sale

Royal Caribbean-owned cruise agency Cruise1st has been put up for sale and is understood to have attracted at least three potential trade buyers.

It is known that at least one of the cruise specialist agencies interested in buying the business has submitted an offer for Cruise1st, which is a trading division of Sunshine Cruise Holidays and employs more than 100 staff in the UK, Australia and Singapore.

In a statement, Manchester-based Cruise1st said it was “exploring the possibility” of an external sale and also strongly considering a management buyout.

Royal Caribbean declined to comment.

A source told Travel Weekly that a deal could be struck within the next couple of weeks.

Dan Townsley, chief executive of Cruise1st, said he was eager to weigh up options for the business, adding: “We’re in a position to explore our options and make the right choice for the business that will support our ambitious growth plans.”

The agency launched in 2000 and was acquired by Island Cruises three years later. Following the merger of First Choice and Tui UK, Cruise1st became wholly owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises in 2008.

In the past four years the agency’s booking numbers are claimed to have grown by 83%, and Townsley said the business had “aggressive expansion plans”.

The cruise sector has witnessed several acquisitions in recent years, including Iglu Cruise’s purchase of Planet Cruise in 2013 and dnata taking a stake in Imagine Cruising last month.

Private equity firms have also shown interest in cruise businesses, with both Cruise.co.uk and Iglu Cruise receiving backing.

The latter received further investment last week in a deal, believed to be worth £60 million, with private equity backer LDC. This prompted Iglu founder Richard Downs to say he was looking at acquisitions.

Iglu swoops for rival Planet Cruise

Iglu swoops for rival Planet Cruise

By Lee Hayhurst

Cruise and ski specialist online travel agent Iglu.com has acquired rival Planet Cruise claiming the deal makes it the UK’s number one cruise retailer.

The deal, for an undisclosed sum, comes just over 12 months after Iglu secured venture capitalist funding from Growth Capital Partners (GCP) in a deal which valued the firm at £19 million.

That deal saw GCP take a “significant minority stake” in Iglu buying out previous investors Matrix Private Equity Partners.

GCP backed the planet buyout and the annual turnover of the combined business was said to be £135 million.

Both Iglu’s and Planet’s offices in Wimbledon and Portsmouth respectively will be retained as will all staff. Planet employs 75 people.

Iglu claimed the deal means customers will be the first in the country able to research their holidays via either its website, its mobile App, on a tablet or on television.

Iglu chief executive Richard Downs said: “This acquisition means we are going to be delivering the future of travel retailing today.

“With the convergence of TV and the web our customers will have access to the richest and most informed content whichever way they chose to access it.

“Iglu has long been the number one independent ski retailer in the UK and this deal makes us the number one retailer in cruise.”

Portsmouth-based Planet Cruise, which was founded in 2005 by husband and wife team Gary and Jenny West, launched a cruise show on the Ideal World Shopping Channel in January 2008.

It sells cruises on regular TV slots which on all digital platforms such as FreeView, Virgin, Sky and Freesat.

Planet Cruise managing director, Gary West, said: “Combining Iglu’s online capabilities and our strength on television is an exciting prospect.

“There is a natural fit in the two businesses coming together and we as a team here at Planet Cruise look forward to creating a new market leader.”

Iglu managing director, Simone Clark, added: “This is an extremely exciting chapter for Iglu – we’ll be keeping on all the staff and both offices as we plan to continue to grow both the Iglu and Planet Cruise businesses and we now have an even stronger team to take us forward.”

Iglu was founded by Downs in 1998 during his final year of an MBA at London Business School. It expanded into cruise in 2006 and now employs a team of 150.

Simon Jobson, partner at GCP, said: “This acquisition will make Iglu the largest cruise agent in the UK and the market leader in its field.

“We initially invested in the business having seen how brilliantly it capitalised on the huge increase in the popularity of online travel, especially in the cruise sectors and we recognised the potential for developing its online presence and growth by acquisition.”