CruiseWise hopes to sail into the busy and growing online cruise booking sector
TLabs Showcase on travel startups featuring US-based CruiseWise, a new, content-led and map-based online travel agency focusing on cruise trips.
Who and what are you (including personnel and backgrounds)?
CruiseWise was founded in May of 2010 by CEO Amit Aharoni, CTO Nicolas Meunier, and COO Steve Davis.
- Amit served in the Israeli Defense Forces for 10 years, then earned his MBA from Stanford Business School.
- Nicolas attended École Polytechnique in Paris and was pursuing a PhD in machine learning at Stanford when he dropped out to work full-time on CruiseWise.
- Steve attended Harvard College and has worked for the Boston Consulting Group and Sermo, a social network for physicians.
What financial support did you have to launch the business?
CruiseWise served as the pilot team for the StartUp Chile program, where we began initial product development.
In January of 2011 we returned to San Francisco and raised a seed round of funding from Index Ventures, NEA, PROfounders, SV Angel, and a collection of angels in the travel and consumer tech industries.
What problem are you trying to solve?
Over 14 million people each year choose cruising as their preferred way to travel, contributing more than $30 billion to the booming cruise industry.
However, more than 90% of cruises are still booked in person or on the phone through traditional travel agents.
It’s not because of demographics — it’s because no one has applied modern web technologies to cruise bookings. Unfortunately, most cruise result pages look a lot like what flight search looked like in 1998.
Our goal is to let people explore and plan their cruise vacations in the same way they can use the web to find information on everything else.
We’re working together with cruise lines, government databases, and our own set of travel writers to draw together the web’s most complete set of cruise information.
And we’re trying to present it in a way that’s helpful without being overwhelming. It’s a big task, but we think we’re up to the challenge.
That means creating customized itineraries and travel guides for each customer, highlighting the differences between different cabins, and helping customers make the best decisions when they plan their vacations.
Describe the business, core products and services?
CruiseWise aims to bring wisdom and simplicity to online cruise booking.
Our website provides users with a thoroughly researched cruise booking engine so they can make informed decisions about how they want to vacation.
Explore destinations with an integrated map feature, compare prices and routes across multiple cruise lines, visually select a cabin on the ship, and use our streamlined checkout process to book entirely online.
The search and exploration process is enhanced with innovative features like in-depth port guides, extensive photo galleries, and at-a-glance information about each ship’s amenities.
We’re also introducing transparent pricing to online cruise booking. For the first time, cruisers can choose to see prices up front with or without tax included and they have the option to view the price per traveler or the price for all travelers.
This is part of our commitment to continually developing new tools and features that will allow our users to always see the best prices along with the most comprehensive search results.
Who are your key customers and users at launch?
We’re focused on providing both seasoned cruisers and those new to cruising with a search and booking process that is intuitive, user-friendly, and packed with all of the information they need to make informed choices about how they want to vacation.
We hope past cruisers will find the CruiseWise website a trustworthy source for accessing the most inclusive search results across all cruise lines, as well as the best place to view and compare cruise prices.
For those who have not cruised before, and those who don’t have the time or inclination to contact a travel agent, the site is designed as the ideal place to explore destinations, easily understand the differences between cruise lines and ships, and book easily and efficiently online.
Did you have customers validate your idea before investors?
We interviewed hundreds of past cruisers and potential cruisers to understand how they book their vacations—from the very early planning stages to check-in.
We mocked up prototypes and got feedback on marquee features to help us decide what to focus on initially.
That kind of research has really paid off based on the response we’re getting after launch.
What is the business AND revenue model, strategy for profitability?
We earn commissions from the cruise lines for presenting information to our customers, selling them cruises, and providing customer service post-booking.
We never charge our customers fees.
SWOT analysis – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats?
- We’re an agile team, we’re familiar with the latest web technologies, and we have a lot of experience working with complex legacy systems. We’re listening carefully to our customer feedback and continually working on improving our product. We’re bringing a fresh perspective to the cruise industry by avoiding some of the “deal and discount” theater that surrounds a lot of cruise booking.
- As with any new brand, we face a credibility challenge with each new potential customer. We haven’t spent the millions of dollars on advertising that our competitors have. Although we have a sterling customer service record, we have to find innovative ways to communicate our trustworthiness to new customers.
- We’re in a $30 billion annual market that’s seen revenue growth every year for the last 30 years.
- Probably one of those “unknown unknowns”.
Who advised you your idea isn’t going to be successful and why didn’t you listen to them?
The biggest negatives we got from people were about the size of the price tag and the complexity of the product. We considered these objections, but it feels like those are the same things that people said to Blue Nile (high price tag) or to booking car insurance and package vacations online (product complexity).
It’s also the same flavor of criticism leveled at people selling on mobile today. At CruiseWise we don’t believe that people want to buy products in a certain way just because that’s how it’s always been done.
We want to find a new, better way for people to book their vacations.
What is your success metric 12 months from now?
In 12 months we’d like to be the one-stop cruise vacation research and booking site. We don’t want to be the best cruise travel agency online. We want to be the best cruise travel agency.
Kevin May is a senior editor and one of the co-founders at Tnooz. He was previously editor of UK-based magazine Travolution and web editor of Media Week UK from 2003 to 2005.
He has worked in regional newspapers (Essex Enquirer) and started his career in journalism at the Police Gazette at New Scotland Yard in London. He has a degree in criminology, a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism and will be publishing his first book - a biography about electronic band, Depeche Mode - soon.