How SMALL ships became a BIG success for Cruise Traveller
Small ships launched big dreams for Cruise Traveller Managing Director and co-founder, Craig Bowen, back in 2003. Passionate about travel and sharing the world’s great places with other like-minded modern explorers, Craig started a luxury travel company in Australia called Connoisseur Tours in 1999 so travellers could discover the world in style. At the same time, cruising, worldwide, took off in a big way but it was the small things about cruising that inspired Craig.
While cruise ships were getting bigger and travel companies around the world were jumping on the growth and obsessed about the growing size of vessels, Craig noticed no-one was looking after small, boutique ships, which boasted their own unique appeal to cruisers who valued intimacy, style, relaxation and elegance. So over a beer with a friend from New Zealand and his brother, the keel for Cruise Traveller was laid in 2003 and today, the guiding motto to make small things big still steers the growing business which is now the most experienced and successful small-ship cruise agency in Australia.
“Back in 2003 no travel company was specialising in boutique, luxury ships,” says Craig. “But we knew this sector held appeal and we were right, with the small-ship industry now 20 times the size it was in 2003, with a plethora of smaller ships now cruising the seven seas with many more on order.”
But what also galvanised Craig’s belief in small ships was a voyage he did to Antarctica in 2004. “That trip totally inspired me about the allure of expedition cruising and making remote and wild places like Antarctica more accessible to people for more wonder in their life. When I returned from Antarctica, I resolved to totally specialise in small-ship travel and Cruise Traveller has not strayed from that objective ever since.
“I’ve been to Antarctica three times now and can’t wait to go back again. What also struck me on my first polar trip was ow beautiful and fragile our planet’s wild places are and how we need to preserve them. I think we have a role in the travel industry to protect the amazing places we enjoy on small ship cruises and that’s why we actively support environmental causes and only represent cruise companies that respect nature in what they do. Education is an integral component of travel and Cruise Traveller is at the bow of that if you like.”
Today, Cruise Traveller represents around 50 small ship cruise lines that sail to all corners of the world, with a focus on remote and exotic destinations. “Because we specialise in small ships, we are experts in this field and can offer a one-stop-shop to Australians seeking to see the world on a smaller ship,” says Craig. “I often say we don’t know a lot about the 90 per cent of the industry that we don’t sell but we know absolutely everything about the sector that we do specialise in. To that end, we invest significant resources every year into sending our team members on small-ship cruises around the world so that they can experience, first-hand, the amazing products we sell so that our guests are getting an expert opinion 100 per cent of the time.
“Our clients are very savvy, discerning and demanding which is perfect because excellent and efficient service is also our specialty. My background is in hotel customer service so offering our clients the best personal service possible is our aim. We have a high customer repeat rate of up to 40 per cent so we know we’re doing a good job but we always strive to do better.”
In 2003, Craig and an assistant, Karen, were the only staff at Cruise Traveller and they promoted just three small-ship cruise operators. Karen is still with the company all these years later alongside 13 other staff across the areas of product development, marketing, reservations and administration and Craig and his two Kiwi co-Directors are still navigating the business to bigger and better things, with a ten-fold growth in business since 2003 already.
But as Craig adds: “Although we’re growing in business, our aim has never been to get too big. We just want to do what we do well.”