It’s not that Vantage Deluxe World Travel doesn’t want agent business, but the company is doing well without it, said COO Bret Gordon onboard the company’s new river cruise ship, River Discovery II.
The Boston-based company is becoming a significant player in the river cruise market, and it is doing so with a largely direct-to-consumer model. (Although agents aren’t a significant source of business, Vantage does pay agents 10% commission.)
After 30 years in business, Vantage has grown its customer database to about 6 million potential travelers, Gordon said. An aggressive customer-referral program (customers get $100 off their next trip for every referral that books with Vantage) produces 10% to 15% of the company’s growth, he said.
Gordon admitted that today he wouldn’t want to start a direct-to-consumer business that is 80% small-ship cruising and 20% land tours. Vantage can sustain its direct model because of its three decades of building a database of loyal customers, with two-third of the company’s business coming from repeaters, he said.
Without agents aiding clients with everything from flight arrangements to individual travel needs, Vantage has had to invest heavily in its customer service department, which is triple the size of its sales department, according to Gordon.
The River Discovery II brings Vantage’s company-owned fleet in Europe to three. Vantage also owns the 140-passenger River Navigator and the 170-passenger River Odyssey. It retired the 170-passenger River Explorer from its fleet this year.
In 2013, the company will add two more vessels to its fleet, the 176-passenger River Splendor and the 136-passenger River Venture.
The River Navigator will be repositioned to the Rhone River in the south of France, and the remaining vessels will sail on the Rhine, Main, Moselle and Danube rivers in Europe. The newbuilds are part of a $120 million fleet investment.
Vantage also has inked a deal with Pandaw River Cruises for a Mekong River vessel in 2014, and has an option to build one more ship in Europe in 2014. Follow Michelle Baran on Twitter @mbtravelweekly.