Since buying Cruise Circle, Jason Daniels has endured a rocky path due to Thomas Cook’s collapse and Covid. Harry Kemble hears how the OTA’s fortunes have now changed.
Q. When did you start at Cruise Circle?
A. My wife Danielle and I have been involved with Cruise Circle since early 2006, pretty much since the beginning. We were on holiday in India for New Year’s Eve in 2005 when I was contacted about the opportunity.
I worked in the Farnborough office for a couple of months, before we moved back to Ibiza and started homeworking for Cruise Circle. We bought the business in late 2009 and relocated to Bolsover, where we’ve been ever since.
I worked in the Farnborough office for a couple of months, before we moved back to Ibiza and started homeworking for Cruise Circle
Q. How have you fared in 2022 so far?
A. Well, we won Cruise Agency of The Year in the small agency category at Travel Weekly’s Agent Achievement Awards, something that we are very proud of. The award sits on my desk and I polish it every day!
The cruise industry had a cautious start to 2022 because we were only just coming out of the Omicron phase, but then all of a sudden it picked up massively. It has been a tough few years, really tough, but we’re well and truly back on track now.
The cruise industry had a cautious start to 2022 because we were only just coming out of the Omicron phase, but then all of a sudden it picked up massively
Q. Tell us about the team at Cruise Circle.
A. They’re the best! We’re a team of 14 including Danielle and myself. We have five sales staff but we’d like to double that over the next 12 months. We’ve just hired our first marketing manager, which is a big step forward for us, and are recruiting to fill sales and customer service positions.
We’re close to launching more products and river will be first, hopefully in time for Wave season, which would inevitably mean we’d need to grow our product team, headed up by Mark Godden.
We’re close to launching more products and river will be first, hopefully in time for Wave season
Q. What’s it like working so closely with your wife?
A. We’ve worked together for a long time now, so we’ve found a good balance. We met on a cruise educational back in 2004, and within six months we’d moved to Ibiza, where we also worked together.
Danielle runs the day-to-day business; my role is more strategic. Sometimes we take our work home with us, which can occasionally end up in a heated debate, but we’ve become better at leaving it until we’re back in the office.
Sometimes we take our work home with us, which can occasionally end up in a heated debate
Q. What is selling well at the moment?
A. Everything – the market is so buoyant. We’re trying to push as much of our ex-UK and cruise-only business as possible online, especially with dwindling margins due to excessive discounting in the industry. Our average sale price is increasing, especially on our fly-cruise packages, which we’re delighted about.
We’re booking far more balcony cabins than inside cabins, a positive side-effect from the pandemic. We’re also seeing Covid having an impact – during the pandemic people’s choices were driven by where they could cruise, now it’s more a case of where they would like to cruise.
We’re trying to push as much of our ex-UK and cruise-only business as possible online, especially with dwindling margins
Q. How did the collapse of Thomas Cook affect the business?
A. It was hell. Easily the biggest challenge of my career. We were members of the Freedom Travel Group, Cooks’ consortium, which we’d inherited when we bought the business. Although the writing seemed to be on the wall during those last few weeks, the impact of it actually happening was a huge shock.
We learnt a lot about ourselves – I just hope the industry bodies did too. The way they dealt with it was not great at all. Along with some of the cruise lines, they had no real understanding of how the consortia model worked. It was a really difficult time, but we got through – then Covid struck.
We try to treat our staff well and consider them as people first and employees second. They appreciate this and show us commitment in return
Q. How did you cope with the pandemic?
A. It has been a tough few years, but our staff got us through it. It’s as simple as that. We were all completely unprepared for this pandemic, yet they all pulled together and worked like machines. Without them I’m not sure we would have made it.
We try to treat our staff well and consider them as people first and employees second. They appreciate this and show us commitment in return. The future feels a lot brighter now; we have a really solid team and are ready for the next chapter.
Do you have any concerns about pricing at the moment?
Yes, especially mainstream cruise products from the UK. Some of the big-volume players can be really aggressive with their discounting. Cruise Circle is a full-service business, which means we look after our customers’ needs from start to finish. Going down to 2% or 3% margins is not sustainable, but what do we do?Especially when they’re repeat customers we’ve had for years.
Our ex-UK mainstream business will always be there, but our focus is looking for more profitable business, which leads in nicely to the diversified products we’re launching soon, namely river, luxury and expedition. We hope to have river on sale for Wave, with luxury and expedition following in the first half of 2023. We have a good database of ocean customers and are sure some of them will want to do river cruises. With such a diverse range of offerings in the river cruise market I’m confident that with the 10 or so brands we’re planning on launching with, we’ll have something for everyone.
Ultimately, we’re going to see prices gradually increase, due to demand. That’s a good thing. Whatever goes on in the wider world will impact on pricing. The value of a cruise holiday will always stand up well against land-based alternatives.