Face to face: Giles Hawke, CEO of Cosmos Tours

Face to face: Giles Hawke, CEO of Cosmos Tours

What makes Cosmos Tours unique in the UK market? 

Giles Hawke
Giles Hawke

Based on our company heritage of over 85 years and our network of worldwide offices and staff, we have the best choice of land arrangements and excursions and pride ourselves on a high level of customer service.  Some of our knowledgeable tour directors have 20-30 years’ experience and customers have said they literally ‘made the holiday’. Our focus is to be customer centric so we are offering a first class customer service experience throughout an agent’s contact with us.  This is backed up by our membership of the Institute of Customer Service helping us to improve our customer service.

We are working to offer agents the easiest way of booking packaged cruise holidays with return flights, the cruise and overseas transfers included.  Adding even more value, we have added a FREE VIP Chauffeur service with every holiday so customers can enjoy the most relaxed way of getting to and from the airport.

 

How have you adapted your offering to make it as trade-friendly as possible – and how has this strategy paid dividends?

We have the ability to tailor-make a unique holiday by adding pre and post stays, back- to- back tours or cruise and stay, so that agents can increase their commission earning potential.  Booking through us means that agents can offer their customers the convenience of flying from their local airport; our UK flight programme covers 24 UK airports and almost every airline, including the no-frills carriers.

We work with the world’s best ocean and river cruise lines to package the most exciting choice of cruise holidays from coastal sailing around Croatia and Montenegro to sailing the mighty Mississippi by luxury paddle steamer.   As we increased our capacity with key cruise lines, we have increased our volume so that we can offer agents more departure dates and availability for 2017.   With the high 9% growth of the UK cruise market last year, we are looking at double digit growth across our cruise offering. With worldwide offices, we can enhance a cruise holiday with city stays, rail journeys or time in a coastal resort so our customers can get to the heart of a destination with more time for sightseeing, visiting famous sights or just soaking up the culture or enjoying local food.

This has definitely paid off for us as we have seen significant growth year on year.

 

What’s new for 2016/2017 – in terms of product, destination, ancillaries, choice (dates), etc?

Our strategy has been to broaden the types of travel experience for agents to offer their customers beyond the classic touring or cruise holiday. 2017 will see the broadest range of different types of travel experience we have ever offered.  These include Indian Ocean luxury beach holidays, worldwide touring themed holidays such as religious tours, music, food and culture as well as luxury train journeys.  We are also introducing Private touring and family touring for the first time, to appeal to a broader range of customers and to give agents something unique and special to sell. Recently launched is our new Cruise brochure with an exciting and broader range of river and ocean cruise holidays. The most recent of which is our launch of Fathom, the impact travel experience in the Dom Rep which we have packaged with a Miami city stay, flights and transfers.

 

 

What booking trends are you noticing in 2016 and what factors are driving these?

The cruise market from the UK remains the fastest growing sector of the travel industry and has undertaken huge growth in the last 10 years.  Appealing to a much broader age range and demographic, there is literally an ocean or river cruise for every type of customer and every budget.

In the last five years, the river cruise market has really taken off as people realise it is the most relaxing way to see a destination.  Last year saw 150,300 UK passengers enjoy a river cruise.

As customers get more adventurous, destinations which offer something out of the ordinary are performing well. Our Russian river cruises are very popular with 100% growth  year on year.  For next year we have introduced a new seven night river cruise from Moscow to St Petersburg aboard a five star ship to meet this growing demand. Also, proving popular are the Andalucia (Guadalquivir), Douro, Mississippi, Yangtze rivers as well as coastal cruising around Croatia (from Split ‘Gems of Croatia’ aboard small ship Prestige or Dubrovnik departures). We have also introduced Avalon River Cruises into our Cosmos offering at the 5*+ level to ensure we cater for customers demanding more luxury and service as part of their experience with us

 

The UK cruise market grew 9% last year – how did Cosmos perform in comparison?

We have outpaced the overall market growth as we’ve seen double digit growth across our cruise programme.

 

What’s new for Avalon Waterways and why are river cruises becoming increasingly popular across all demographics?

With such competitive prices in the river cruise market, this year has seen an opportunity for many people to experience a river cruise for the first time and for it to be easier than ever for agents to secure sales on a river cruise.  We’ve seen many new customers experiencing Avalon with excellent feedback for our luxury river cruise brand. We can offer customers the best views on Europe’s rivers with cleverly designed ‘Panorama staterooms’ featuring unique wall to wall, floor to ceiling panoramic windows with beds that face the window.

Next year, Avalon Waterways is launching a new range of river cruises targeting a new and more active audience. Avalon Active Discovery on the Danube will include an exciting range of active excursions such as hiking, canoeing on the Danube or cycling along the river bank.  Our customers will be able to learn Viennese bakery skills, take an archery lesson or enjoy a guided mountain climb, conduct an orchestra or even compose their own waltz.  With the younger customer in mind, the ships will be moored up in town and city centres for the evening so that those who wish can experience local bars and restaurants until late evening with a group of friends.

This will really open up river cruising to customers who want to get to the heart of a destination by trying local experiences combined with activities or sports they enjoy, all from the comfort of a spacious modern luxury river cruise vessel.

Avalon is also offering every booking free home to airport return VIP Chauffeur service for 2017, up to 100 miles each direction. This gives us something unique for agents to talk about and which caters to the requirements of our luxury customers

 

What’s your trade strategy for 2016/2017?

Our aim is to strengthen relationships with key agent partners, provide favourable commercial terms, support and product training as well as building awareness of the unique reasons to book with us.   As well as working closely with existing partners, we aim to identify and develop new business partners.   Our web team are currently developing API links for all products which will be mutually beneficial and help agents to make bookings electronically so that they are more in control of their sales process and can take bookings at any time.

 

What growth potential do you see for your portfolio of products and what type of cruise products or packages and/or river cruises do you tip for greatness over the next few years?

Based on recent customer research, we know our customers are looking for a different and unique travel experience.  This is the basis for our product growth to find them the most exciting and engaging holidays.

A developing trend is for customers to extend a cruise with a city stay or tour, and our product range reflects this demand.  Our Cruise brochure features an expanded choice of ocean, coastal and river cruise packages.   This is a great opportunity for agents to increase their business as these can be high value bookings. Generally speaking, cruise customers are pretty much guaranteed to come back having had a great experience which means repeat business for the agent.

We also see that our expanded range of touring holidays to include religious tours, unique experiences, private tours and family tours will prove very popular with agents and their customers

Gemma Greenwood
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Gemma Greenwood
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