MIAMI -- A new cruise-focused OTA that hopes to modernize
the way cruises are sold is gearing up for a debut during the 2017 Wave season,
possibly as early as January.
To help oversee its business, the Miami-based startup has
attracted some top industry names, including former Norwegian Cruise Line
executives Kevin Sheehan and Vincent Cirel, as well as industry veteran Dwain
Operating as CruisingStore.com, the OTA plans to offer
shoppers highly customized and trusted information about a cruise in a variety
of digital formats, so that when the time is ripe, a consumer will book without
talking to or sitting with an agent.
Key partners include Deloitte Consulting, which has a
financial interest in the startup, and Revelex, also an equity partner, which
will provide the booking engine.
CruisingStore.com will use agents for some bookings and
independent contractors for others. The ICs will not have traditional sales roles,
although some will be certified as product experts through online training
academies at various cruise lines.
The startup plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to
build a robust website and establish itself as a go-to name for cruise
"Cruise has been lagging behind in the technology to
allow consumers to be their own travel agent," said Stephen Watson, the
company's president and COO. "We're going to change that."
To do so, CruisingStore.com will depend heavily on two
The first is Deloitte, which has moved into travel marketing
using big data to gain insights into consumer patterns, trends, buying habits
"This collaboration with Deloitte will present a new
level of deep, data-driven, first-of-its kind customer analytics functionality,
said Cirel, CruisingStore.com's CEO.
The second partner will be Salt Lake City-based Needle, a
contractor that provides online chat services to retailers and also works with
some cruise line customers.
CruisingStore.com will quiz online shoppers and use a
Deloitte-developed algorithm to automatically push relevant answers to them in
the form of videos, texts, photos or live resources. The algorithm will also be
used by Needle to funnel shoppers to chats, to product champions who supply
testimonials, to relevant social media sites or to user-generated content.
"One of our certified Needle agents can push a video of
a beautiful destination or an article or share some social ratings with them,"
Watson said. "We're using the best the web has to offer to create an
experience that's second to none for the consumer."
Although it will be accredited by IATA, CLIA and ASTA, for
the most part CruisingStore.com will operate without people in the traditional
sales roles. That will substantially reduce costs, one of the keys to making
the model successful.
Agents who are certified product experts, called Anytime
Anywhere Advocates, will earn commission based on customer quality scores, as
well as on sales. Knowledgeable cruise customers who can chat with prospects,
called Cruiser2Cruiser advocates, are compensated with points redeemable for
When customers give their credit card information, either
online or to advocates, the numbers will be passed through to the cruise lines,
which will become the merchants of record and will handle post-booking
Sharing customer information with suppliers is another key
part of the CruisingStore model.
"The idea is we're getting out of the way of that
direct communication between the consumers and suppliers," Cirel said.
In doing so, CruisingStore will give up the revenue
associated with any upsell once a deposited booking is made. It is also
forgoing commission overrides and co-op marketing funds that the cruise lines
provide other agencies.
CruisingStore will also share with cruise lines' analytical
data culled by Deloitte from the OTA's consumer interactions in hopes of
tailoring more relevant and successful promotions and packages.
Cirel acknowledged the risk that CruisingStore.com customers
could be poached by suppliers but said its website will be so feature-rich and
unique that the company expects to retain the majority of its clientele.
In addition, it will run a loyalty program that will give
customers cash equivalents such as Visa gift cards for various point levels.
Cirel said the loyalty program would be used jointly by
suppliers and CruisingStore.com to develop promotions, something that can't be
done in the current system in which agents keep close control of client
"We feel like in the digital economy, really, there's a
better model," Cirel said. "We intend to move that to the loyalty
program as well."
A big emphasis in developing the CruisingStore.com model was
to appeal to millennial prospects and noncruisers.
"Millennials are a very difficult group -- the ones as
an industry we actually have to appeal to," Cirel said. "They do not
like picking up a phone and calling. They want to be able to chat and be
handled and dealt with instantly, any time of the day or night, with a person
who truly has an ability and the sophistication to handle them and their needs
He also said CruisingStore is dedicated to helping cruise
lines reach new customers.
Cirel said last week that he could not provide a lot of
detail, "because it's still early." But he added, "When we talk
about helping the cruise industry grow their share of the vacation wallet and
bring in new vacation consumers to the cruise industry, we're not just talking
aspirational stuff here. We've got some specific, tactical programs that we're
in the process of implementing."
Cirel acknowledged that some big-ticket, high-end clients
were not likely to book cruises without a traditional sales agent. To that end,
CruisingStore.com has acquired Galaxy Travel & Cruises, a Signature agency
in Fort Lauderdale owned by Dwain Wall and Joshua Oretsky.
Wall, who formerly headed the
CruiseOne/Cruises Inc. brands and worked for CLIA as executive vice
president of agent and trade relations, has joined CruisingStore as chief
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. and Norwegian Cruise Line have
signed agency agreements with CruisingStore.com and Galaxy. Wall said he was also talking with
several other big lines.
Alex Pinelo, vice president of key accounts for Norwegian,
said the CruisingStore.com business model "enables us to enter the
conversation with the customer earlier in the travel planning phase."
Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales, trade service
and support at Royal Caribbean International said CruisingStore.com has an
innovative concept and veteran leadership.
"They're going to be an online player generating
new-to-cruise [clients]," she said. "They seem to have an
understanding of the cruise business, so I said, 'OK, we will work with you.'"
Cirel has an IT background, having been chief information
officer at Norwegian Cruise Line until 2014. He started a firm in which
Deloitte is an investor called Milepost Group, of which CruisingStore.com and Galaxy are both subsidiaries.
Watson was a founding partner of Worldmedia Interactive, a
marketing agency that is providing CruisingStore.com with long-term marketing
strategy, agency services, on-site branding and customer acquisition.
Former Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Kevin Sheehan serves as nonexecutive chairman.
Watson said the goal for CruisingStore.com is to provide information that consumers can trust.
"That's what we keep trying to build, that trust
factor," Watson said. "Trusting that they can call the cruise lines,
trusting that they can talk to a consumer and get the real scoop on something,
trusting that they can talk to and chat with an advocate who's knowledgeable
and trained or trusting that if they really have a sophisticated need, they can
talk in person or on the phone to one of the agents under the Galaxy Travel
He added, "Our main objective is to give consumers the
ability to be their own captain."
Correction: Kevin Sheehan has not invested in CruisingStore.com.
Dwain Wall is CruisingStore's chief development officer.