Cruise Connections

A new business thriving in the City of Sails

  • Cruise Connections

    The Crystal Symphony cruises the waters near Portofino, Italy.

In February 2013, travel agent Samantha Fowler, along with former colleagues Libby Stafford and Amber Gilling, took the plunge and launched their travel business, Cruise Connections.

The trio had been working together at Air New Zealand, with Samantha overseeing the launch of its cruise portfolio as General Manager of Air New Zealand Holidays.  But after spending 25 years in the travel industry working for two large companies, she was ready for a change.

“I wanted to take control of my destiny and do something for myself.  And with two primary school aged children, I also wanted to address my work life balance,” Samantha explains.

Cruise Connections was launched in February 2013 and not surprisingly, cruises are the company’s core business.  Five months in and cruises account for 50 percent of the company’s turnover, however Samantha is looking to grow that figure to around 75 percent within the next six months.  She believes it’s an achievable target, due to the variety of cruise itineraries now offered by the shipping lines.

“Over the last eight to ten years, cruising has definitely undergone a transformation and perception change,” says Samantha.  “No longer are cruises viewed as an option just for the elderly or wealthy.  The major cruise lines are developing and marketing new products regularly to attract new consumers.  Smaller cruise lines are emerging offering bespoke itineraries so whether you want to sail around the Hawaiian Islands on an all-inclusive cruise or explore wildlife in Alaska on a 30 berth boat, there’s a cruise to suit everyone.”

Building a business from scratch has meant Samantha and her partners have relied on word of mouth, referrals and their contacts to generate business.   “Between the three of us we have more than 75 years’ industry experience and have built a significant bank of contacts, which we are using to drive the business and ensure our customers get the best offer,” she says.

Cruise Connections has also invested heavily in technology and its website now features a software programme that connects clients to the cruise lines’ systems in real time, enabling them to book specific rooms and view pricing.

The company represents over 50 cruise lines, including Australian wholesaler CruiseCo’s product.  Samantha acknowledges however, that cruising “isn’t for everyone”, so flights and other land-based holiday options are available.

Samantha met Moore Stephens Markhams Auckland director Tarsha Hazleman eight years ago.  The two were (and still are) neighbours and carpooling into the CBD to their respective jobs proved fertile ground for conversations about business and money.

“We covered a lot of topics on those car trips,” Samantha says. “Tarsha was my mentor and I bounced ideas off her in an informal way.  Her passion is seeing small businesses grow and she was very encouraging about my plans to start my own venture.”

Once Samantha had decided to “do her own thing”, she met with Tarsha and her team. “I needed to understand how a business should work and its structure,” says Sam.  Tarsha set up Cruise Connections with Xero, a cloud based accounting system that Sam says is “exactly what we needed”.  “Tarsha can see our accounts in real time and we can see our P&L instantly.  It’s a very logical and intuitive system.”

Although the weekly reporting is now stretched out to a quarterly update, Tarsha still keeps a watchful eye on the business and Sam says,  “Tarsha makes everything so easy and as time goes on, we’re progressing and getting more systems in place.  My training wheels are coming off!”

Published Spring 2013.

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