By Martin Kelly

THE Australian cruise industry might be all at sea when it comes to offering last cabin availability through the internet, but that hasn’t stopped a small but vibrant online market emerging in the sector.

There’s a handful of players, among them Cleancruising.com.au, which this month celebrates its first anniversary.

Russell says the past year has been hectic. “We only went live with 36 ships and since then have overhauled the IT systems to handle mapping and pricing integration. We now have 120 ships, plus 800 ports and more than 7000 cruises.

But for all the site’s bells and whistles, it is still unable to offer live inventory, as online agents can in America through the GDS.

“As far as we are concerned this system must be overhauled – the cruise lines need to make it available. It will make a big difference.”

Yet it isn’t crucial. Cruises are big purchases and a lot of the market is elderly. As a result, Russell estimates that just 10% of the giant US cruise market is online anyway with 90% either done over the phone or in person.

“You have to have good support,” he says. Because Clean Cruising is part of GlobeNet Travel, one of Australia’s largest retail agencies, it is able to offer 24/7 customer assistance.

Russell says Clean Cruising is also using technology and commercial altruism to differentiate its offering from competitors such as cruising.com.au and creativecruising.

“Every cruise is mapped in Google Maps and Google Earth, while all our cruises are carbon neutral,” says Russell. “Rather than ask people to pay an additional levy, we donate the amount ourselves as a way of saying thanks,” he says.

Russell says the site is now getting up to 1100 unique visitors a day and the company wants to increase traffic initially through affiliate agreements with international travel sites.

“We think there are significant opportunities with cruise because not many people in Australia have taken one, the market is growing at 20% a year and there’s a very high repeat rates among past customers.

Travel Trends: March 14, 2008

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