Cruise.me was devised to take the pain out of booking a cruise online.
The five founders recognised that most online cruise sites are modeled on flight and hotel services but that booking a cruise is complex and typical customers require more than a few hours to go through the process.
So, with a goal of creating the best possible online cruise booking experience, the team has invested time in tackling the existing problems while drawing inspiration from the online property and banking sectors.
The startup has identified three distinct areas to address – search, discover and connect, which have also become Cruise.me's tag line.
The five-strong team, all of whom are co-founders of the business, consists of chairman Narinder Dhiensa, chief executive Stephen Chip, chief marketing officer Benoit Duverneuil, chief technical officer Mark Kemper and senior programmer Imran Ahmed.
Interestingly, the full team has never been assembled together in the same room, managing instead to communicate via technology such as Google Hangouts, Skype, Join.me and others.
Cruise.me has been bootstrapped to date with branding, patents and data layers making up its main outlay. It also points out that the cruise industry has complex and costly barriers of entry but that it is open to discussing investment opportunities to scale the business and technology more rapidly.
The team estimates the market to be $38 billion annually and increasing, with 167 ships built since 2000, and 14 to be launched this year. Last year, about 20.9 million guests chose cruising for their vacations.
Competition comes from groups of specialist travel agencies including Omega World Travel and World Travel Holdings, cruiselines including Carnival, NCL and Royal Caribbean, large OTAs such as Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity and online cruise communities such as Cruisecritic.
The plan is to generate revenue from a number of sources - by capturing a new generation of cruisers (younger than the traditional cruise customer) and increase its presence via other OTAs which will use Cruise.me's technology. The startup also claims its operating costs are lower than traditional cruise travel agencies because it has been effective at leveraging technology.
- Online bookings - commission on each cruise booked on the platform. Upselling of insurance, flights and hotels with future plans for adding river cruises and shore excursions.
- Licensing technology - Cruise.me is owned and operated by AbbeyLabs, company set up specifically to get the startup off the ground. Cruise.me is also the showroom for the technology developed by the team. Several applications and high-quality content have already been developed for Cruise.me, which are also available to other OTAs and Cruise companies as a white-label solution.
Other revenue streams will be generated via partners (advertising and co-branded inventory) and affiliation.
What problem does the business solve?
Booking a cruise is traditionally a lengthy process. Cruise.me delivers inspiration from the moment you experience the site. Our 'Discovery' section will help you navigate thousands of possibilities based on your preferences. If you see something you like, flag it and we'll show you cruises that includes this feature (destination, ship, onboard amenities...). For the first time ever, visitors will be able to search via our innovative Map Explorer.
Booking online is complex due to the vast number of ships, ports, destinations, cabin categories, etc. We have built a more intuitive way for consumers to search, discover and plan/book their cruise.
A cruise is definitely a social experience but so far social has been neglected by most OTAs. Cruise.me helps you to connect with the cruise community, your friends and family and even other passengers who travel on the same ship. We enhance your travel experience before, during and after your cruise.
How did the initial idea evolve and were there changes/any pivots along the way in the early stages?
We knew we wanted to create the ultimate online cruise booking experience. As we worked to solve some of the challenges of other online booking sites experienced, we added Discovery via our patent-pending Map Explorer. We also have the social component, which we are releasing via APIs for inclusion on other travel sites.
Why should people or companies use the business?
The technology that Cruise.me has developed delivers a revolutionary step change in the way cruises are searched for and booked. Pre-search and Discovery are key factors along with new innovation with regard to search. We have also added a social layer, which makes Cruise.me by far the best platform in the cruise marketplace.
Our versatile design allows you to select an itinerary that’s as vast as your imagination. With a focus on exploring, Cruise.me gives you the tools and inspiration to discover exactly where your next adventure should take you. Explore more of the world and uncover destinations that are as unique as you are. Whether you know precisely where you would like to travel or are looking for a more organic way to plan your trip, our inventive platform helps you create a journey that’s at once unexpected and just the experience you need.
What is the strategy for raising awareness and the customer/user acquisition (apart from PR)?
Our marketing tactics are a blend of online and offline methodologies including street marketing in ports of calls, content marketing, highly targeted PPC, and social media campaigns.
Our APIs will allow other OTAs and online services to benefit from our technology. Affiliation and local partnerships are also very important for us.
Where do you see the company in three years time and what specific challenges do you anticipate having to overcome?
Cruise.me will become a top destination site for everything cruising. It will be the place to explore what cruises can offer you, to discuss and connect with the cruise community and to find the best cruise deals.
Cruise.me will first launch in the US but we plan to quickly grow our presence in Europe as well as offer products beyond traditional cruises.
Data standardization and big data is something challenging but that is precisely why we are in this adventure. User acquisition and loyalty are also two major factos.. The online advertising world of the cruise industry is crowded, however, we plan to focus on multi-channel advertising and keep building top-quality content (we have already built unique content for thousands of ports), while delivering best-in-class customer service.
Cruise lines and major OTAs are investing in more and more resources to grow their online presence however, innovation is our best response to this threat. We have already submitted for patents and as web entrepreneurs we'll innovate, innovate and innovate again, it is in our DNA.
What is wrong with the travel, tourism and hospitality industry that requires another startup to help it out?
Not much has changed in the online cruise booking arena in a number of years. Booking funnels are all the same, usability is lacking and cruise lines and OTAs fail at understanding customer's needs and embracing new usages led by technology.
What other technology company would you consider yourselves most closely aligned to in terms of culture and style... and why?
Over the years, we have been inspired by a whole generation of web entrepreneurs and companies. Five-star services, unparalleled user experience, comprehensive user interface and top-quality content.
We strive to deliver the best in class online services to the cruise industry. Of course, Airbnb, Hipmunk, Zillow and Zappos are all a good source of influence. With founders from different countries and living across the globe, we bring an interesting mix to a company culture where we embrace our differences and strive to deliver the best innovative solutions.
Compared to much of what is out there Cruise.me is cleaner, easier to navigate and a better experience overall.
The service will launch later this year with probably one or two cruise operators or what Cruise.me is calling a 'minimum viable product'.
The startup has lots going for it around both the research and booking phase including rich content and images. It also plans services to warm customers up pre-departure by enabling them to connect as well as the ability to track the trip once it has set sail.
There are quite a few strands to the business already such as its Map Explore functionality and plans for using social media (patents pending) as well as the desire to open up its technology to third parties.
One interesting element is the plan to widen social media out beyond the obvious Facebook and Twitter to sites and services such as Snapchat and Tumblr. In this way, Cruise.me hopes to appeal to a wider demographic than the typical cruising punter, a demographic that is already comfortable with online booking.
Key to success is the ability to draw together all the itineraries from the different ships, the deckplans (which it says it has developed) and the ports of call. The team is already working with Amadeus and also hopes to get direct feeds from cruise operators going forward.
A quick (unscientific) trawl of 'cruise holidays' throws up lots of intermediary sites which just tend to list cruise deals and the experience isn't great. One or two are beginning to include features such as maps to aid navigation but there's a lot of work to be done.
Perhaps Cruise.me can gain some momentum in a market that has traditionally been dominated by offline specialists.