Skift Take

A greatly expanded marketing deal with Disney's National Geographic brand, plus record earnings and revenue, might steer Lindblad Expedition into new waters for potential acquisition.

Lindblad Expeditions provided more detail Wednesday on an expanded marketing partnership with Disney to boost sales of luxury river and ocean cruises.

When Lindblad announced in November it had expanded its marketing partnership with Disney’s National Geographic brand, it highlighted three new market opportunities: Disney beginning to use its sales channels to promote the co-branded trips; support for expanding the number and size of ships that Lindblad sails; and help from Disney in creating immersive storytelling for customers and travelers.

In an earnings call Wednesday, executives pointed to the potential of greater marketing firepower.

Sven-Olof Lindblad, founder and CEO said Disney will for the first time use its own sales channels and marketing to promote the National Geographic branded cruises. It will also let Lindblad Expeditions expand the branded tours worldwide, and not just limit them essentially to audiences in the U.S. and Europe.

The partnership should help Lindblad maximize the occupancy of its current fleet and reduce its cost of acquiring customers, executives said.

The comments came as Lindblad notched a few company records last year. It served more guests (30,000) than in any previous year. It generated record revenue of $570 million. It produced a record EBITDA of $71 million.

Tighter marketing coordination, more selling

For the past two decades, Lindblad Expeditions has sold the trips and National Geographic had a sales channel of its own, and each funnel had different financial mechanisms and strategies.

“That has been completely eliminated,” Lindblad said. “So we’re all pulling in absolutely the same direction. None of us care where which channel the business comes from,” he said.

“Lindblad’s and Disney’s teams are meeting regularly month to month on a disciplined basis for an extended period of time to develop strategies and tactics. The engagement between the organizations has just been hugely cooperative.”

Fleet expansion

The deal will also help Lindblad feel confident to expand its fleet, which has already expanded by 60% since 2016.

“Disney, National Geographic, and Lindblad … the power of that combination will accelerate in all likelihood our commitment to acquiring new vessels, whether that is acquiring vessels that exist,” Lindblad said.

The deal gives Lindblad the option to expand the ships it offers customers in the U.S. and Canada from ships able to hold up to 295 passengers to ships with guest capacity of up to 530 passengers.

Financing to obtain new ships will be easier to obtain and justify because of the promise of the deal, executives said.

Stronger tech game and sales team

Lindblad Expeditions argued that it had improved its technology and the size of its sales team to enable it to benefit from the anticipated surge in business.

“In many ways, 2023 was a year of transition on this front as we launched our new reservation system, the final building block in our multi-year, digital stack transformation, which also included a new CRM [customer relationship management system], a new connect management system, a new digital asset management system, and a new customer data platform,” Lindblad the CEO said.

“We are already seeing record bookings coming through our website,” he said. “We are achieving higher conversion rates across all parts of the funnel, and we are delivering stronger guest service metrics at our contact center.”

“With an expanded sales team and upgraded digital lead generation capabilities, we have been focusing on driving first-timer bookings through elevated search campaigns to capture and convert more prospects than ever before,” he said.

Cruise and Tours Sector Stock Index Performance Year-to-Date

What am I looking at? The performance of cruise and tours sector stocks within the ST200. The index includes companies publicly traded across global markets including both cruise lines and tour operators.

The Skift Travel 200 (ST200) combines the financial performance of nearly 200 travel companies worth more than a trillion dollars into a single number. See more cruise and tours sector financial performance.

Read the full methodology behind the Skift Travel 200.


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Tags: adventure, adventure tourism, adventure travel, antarctica, arctic, cruise, cruise earnings, cruise industry, cruise lines, cruise ships, cruises, disney, experiences, experiential, experiential travel, lindblad expeditions, national geographic

Photo credit: Adventure tourists board a Lindblad Expeditions ship, Islander II. Source: Skift.

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