Case In Brief: Expedia CruiseShipCenters Takes the Helm With Personalized Emails

The cruise travel agency has improved its email marketing campaigns by sending more personalized messages to customers.

Booking a cruise should be as stress-free as the vacation itself. While vacation seekers can benefit from the vast choices available, especially for first-time cruise goers, having many options can be intimidating and actually lead to confusion and second-guessing.

While an increasing number of travelers are taking to the Internet to book their vacations, cruises require a more hands-on approach because of the complexities involved in booking them, and many holiday makers still prefer to speak with a travel agent to help them navigate the waters, especially if they require flights to get to and from the ports.

Expedia CruiseShipCenters, part of Expedia Inc., has a successful travel agency model, with about180 retail outlets across North America. The firm conducts 90 percent of its business face-to-face due to complex bookings. With 4,000 travel agents, the company wanted to make sure that each of them engaged with their customers and prospects in a personalized manner. "The one-to-one relationship is very important," says Dave Massop, the company's manager of interactive marketing.

Having the ability to conduct one-to-one relationships depends on data. The company had an enormous amount of data, including purchase history. Further, travel agents gather a lot of information from their customers, knowing what type of destinations they like going to, whether they're adventure seekers or prefer luxury holidays, and how often they like to travel. This knowledge served as a perfect foundation to continue developing the one-to-one relationship between travel agents and customers.

However, Massop notes that a few years ago Expedia CruiseShipCenters didn't have a program to effectively talk to prospects with relevant information that would entice them to book a cruise. The company decided to take the lead to help travel agents interact with customers and prospects in a very relevant manner. After careful consideration, Expedia CruiseShipCenters implemented Lyris' data-driven digital marketing solution that uses behavioral data to optimize email marketing campaigns.

Rather than sending marketing materials directly to customers, Expedia CruiseShipCenters wanted to directly involve travel agents who already have established a relationship with customers and are the main point of contact. Through the new marketing platform, the organization was able to create email marketing campaigns that would come directly from travel agents, cementing the one-to-one relationship that was already built.


The new platform is helping Expedia CruiseShipCenters gain a holistic view of its customers' interests and apply these insights to send them the most relevant content at the right time. The company sends 60 different marketing campaigns every month engaging its more than one million subscribers. "We're really focused on providing a more relevant experience," Massop says. For example, when Oceanic Cruises released its 2014 itinerary recently, a campaign was sent to subscribers who have previously gone on an Oceanic cruise. Massop says the open rates almost reached 50 percent with a click-through rate of 17.8 percent.

The initiative has also helped Expedia CruiseShipCenters grow its subscriber base since subscribers stand a chance of winning a Caribbean cruise. In fact, the mailing list has multiplied significantly from 125,000 to more than a million subscribers.

Massop notes that although some media outlets perpetuate a myth that email marketing is dead, if companies properly segment their databases and personalize their campaigns to smaller groups of people, email campaigns will remain successful.

Lessons learned

Get personal: Organizations should leverage their frontline employees to create a personalized relationship with customers.

Be relevant: Customers want to receive information that's pertinent to their needs.

Reward loyalty: Customers like getting something back for their loyalty to a brand.