CruiseOne's Dwain Wall

By Kate Rice
Dwain WallWhether or not agencies should offer self-booking on their websites has been an ongoing debate in retail travel, with some agency groups adamantly opposing it and others embracing it. CruiseOne has long been among the latter group, and it just relaunched its consumer site, which its agents can personalize. Dwain Wall, vice president and general manager of CruiseOne, talked with cruise editor Kate Rice about self-booking tools and some of the other benefits of the new site.

Q: Some agency groups oppose providing consumers with an online booking tool on agency websites.

Why? We just introduced a new consumer website, and it is a game changer. In the two weeks since we relaunched the website, we are seeing our unique-visitor numbers go a lot higher. And our agents are loving the new website. They are talking to folks on the phone and saying, "Go to my website, and I will walk you through it.'"

Q: How much do consumers actually use the self-booking tool?

To be very honest, it is just a very few percent. Cruising is a fairly expensive trip, from $2,800 to $3,000 on average, and most consumers won't buy that online. Unless they are very well traveled and know cruising and the product very well, they probably won't book on the website.

Q: Then what's the point?

Just the idea that they can book it themselves draws them to the site, even though they probably won't actually book it themselves. So we want to provide that booking flexibility. If a customer does book online, the agents get an automatically generated email telling them about the booking. Through our sales training they learn protocols about how to follow up. They call the customer to thank them for the booking and then they can talk about next steps. Does the customer want the agent to take the deposit? Do they want shore excursions and travel insurance? They can move on to all of those touch points that an agent can use to start building an ongoing relationship with the customer.

Our website includes a section on shore excursions, a private-label site provided to us by Shore Excursions Group; we've had a partnership with them for a year. It displays excursions that fit with a consumer's itinerary. It introduces our consumers to shore excursions, which is a great revenue opportunity for agents. We've got something similar with travel insurance with a private label site provided by Travel Guard.

Q: Do you use the new site for lead generation?

It helps a lot with lead generation. We were hesitant to market a lot online before the relaunch because we were not 100% thrilled about the old site. But now we have a great landing spot. We invested in paid search on Google to ensure that for certain keywords we are in the paid spots on the first page, usually the top three through six. We have an 800 number on the site for consumers to call, or they can email us. Those leads go to a pool of travel agents who have signed up for leads. Consumers also have the option to find an agent near them.

Q: What sort of research did you use in designing the new site?

We worked with Bentley [University] in Massachusetts. We hired them to do a usability study. They bring in consumers who judge your technology against others and talk about what they like and what they don't like. We learned we had some good things, but our problem was that our deals and promotions were really hard to find. Now we have a much more flexible platform.

We've seen an increase in our overall business since we relaunched, and in travel, it's not about huge wins but lots of little wins. And that's what this site provides our agents.
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