Turning a large proportion of cruise bookings from offline travel agents into online instant bookings would be a big ask. Many of Cruisebound's backers don't need the money, but they will have to prove themselves again nonetheless.
Dennis' Online Travel Briefing
Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, Executive Editor and online travel rockstar Dennis Schaal will bring readers exclusive reporting and insight into the business of online travel and digital booking, and how this sector has an impact across the travel industry.
Online Travel This Week
The old boys network in online travel — yes, let’s call it what it is — has reunited again to accomplish a formidable goal that has frustrated numerous startups in the past. The aim is to disrupt online cruise booking.
New York-based Cruisebound, founded in 2021, reportedly announced a $10 million Series A funding round led by former Booking Holdings chairman and CEO Jeffery Boyd and Par Capital Ventures. The cruise startup, which aims to simplify the complex and still predominantly offline process of booking a cruise, has raised $12.2 million to date, according to Crunchbase.
In addition to Boyd, who joins the Cruisebound board, and Par Capital, the Series A announcement and a list of all-male advisors and investors on Cruisebound.com include Tripadvisor co-founder Steve Kaufer; Concur co-founder Steve Singh; Booking Holdings/Priceline alum Adrian Currie and Arthur Kosten; the co-founders of Rocket Travel (acquired by Booking Holdings) Bjorn Larsen and Jay Hoffmann; TripIt co-founder Scott Hintz, and ex-Flight Centre Group exec Atle Skalleberg, among others.
Rocket Travel alums Pierre-Oliver Lepage is co-founder and CEO of Cruisebound, and Claire Gibbons is vice president of product.
Cruisebound, which appears to be emphasizing mobile bookings and targeting newbie cruisers, is trying to simplify and automate through online bookings the arduous process of selecting the right cruise, choosing a cabin in all their variations from within a maze of decks, and figuring out discounts, port charges, and what’s included and what’s not in the total price.
Cruisebound’s mobile website (there’s no mobile app) is sophisticated and fairly easy to use compared with other sites, and has features I haven’t seen before from the bevy of startups that have unsuccessfully tried to crack online cruise bookings over the years.
For example, customers can select the desired duration of the cruise by manipulating a slider. There is a video FAQ early in the booking process, powered by Tolstoy, where cruise consultant “Claire” offered pre-recorded advice on what’s included in the fare, whether the customer needs a passport, and which cruise to select among the assortment of major cruise lines such as Carnival and Royal Caribbean.
For additional questions, site visitors can email a form, and as with other cruise websites, Cruisebound lists a customer service phone number atop its homepage for inquiries.
“We’re available 24/7 via phone, email or chat to help with questions, changes, and whatever else you need to make your cruise vacation a success,” the website says.
So Cruisebound doesn’t hope to strictly be an online endeavor, but if it can significantly streamline the online booking process and capture a chunk of customers without employing a bloated number of call center agents like a lot of other cruise-booking businesses must do, then perhaps the company has a chance to endure.
Online travel agencies from Orbitz to Travelocity and Tripadvisor have offered cruises since the earliest days of online travel, but have had to employ call center agents to finish off the bulk of bookings. That’s the case likewise with online travel company and tour operator Dreamlines, which acquired Cruise 1st in 2021.
The challenge for Cruisebound is that perhaps it will find out the hard way why cruise bookings have been stubbornly accomplished largely offline to this day for a reason. Often there are just too many questions about sailings, which come with relatively hefty price tags, to give cruisers the security of relying merely on an instant online booking.
Hope Bank, co-founder of Military Cruise Deals, argued that experienced travel agents are the key ingredient in growing a cruise business, and that “simplification is an elusive dream.” She said her company has trouble finding travel agents to hire because cruise training takes at least two years.
Customer service begins in earnest post-booking.
“The sales and customer service requests are so numerous and specific that your average call-center agent struggles and has to resort to putting any caller on hold, for up to 40 minutes, while they research and ask a supervisor to assist in accomplishing the simplest of tasks,” Bank said.
Here’s hoping Cruisebound — or other startups to come — can chip into that offline cruise stranglehold for efficiency’s sake and the benefit of cruisers.
HomeToGo on Track for Profitability in 2023
Short-term rental shopping and booking site HomeToGo announced Wednesday that it has a much greater backlog of bookings (euro 32.5 million, or $34.5 million, up 72 percent) starting 2023 compared with the previous year, and that the company is confident it will break even on an adjusted earnings basis this year. An assortments of newly public companies, from Vacasa to Sonder, have likewise pledged to achieve black ink in 2023.
Trip.com Group Looks for Business Normalcy in the Third Quarter
Jane Sun, CEO of China’s Trip.com Group, said at the World Economic Forum at Davos this week that domestic travel in the country is at greater levels than 2019, and bookings outside of China are growing at a triple-digit pace. Sun said she hopes China’s cross-border travel would revert to 2019 levels by the third quarter. Skift
Oyo Could Go Public by April
At the request of regulators in India, accommodation aggregator and operator Oyo plans to refile its initial public offering prospectus by the middle of February, and a source told Skift’s Peden Doma Bhutia this could mean that Oyo would be trading on the public markets by April. However, there have been a series of delays, with regulators seeking more information about Oyo’s valuation, and the litigation against it. Skift
Note: This story has been updated to add commentary about Cruisebound from Military Cruise Deals co-founder Hope Bank.
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