How Captain's Choice is cruising to a new level of digital engagement

Luxury travel provider, Captain’s Choice, has taken the first steps its making its website more user-friendly and intuitive for its older customer demographic, and is now setting its sights set on better personalising customer engagement

Luxury travel provider, Captain’s Choice, has taken the first steps towards making its website more user-friendly and intuitive for its older customer demographic, and is now setting its sights set on better personalising customer engagement.

Delivering customers the kind of personalised service they expect on one of its luxury tours is getting closer to reality for niche travel company, Captain’s Choice, after overhauling its digital platform.

Captain’s Choice is a 21-year old business focused on providing high-end and luxury tours to Australian travellers from 50 to 75 years old. Started by a Victorian-based travel agency with a private jet tour, the business is now majority owned by touring giant, APT, and covers all manner of itineraries across cruises, land and air tours.

Digital marketing executive, Aaron Gawlinski, told CMO the decision to invest in a new website last year was about better guiding customers through the decision-making process to purchase via an easier-to-use, intuitive online portal.

“The old site was very clunky and we had realised there were many things we couldn’t change or do,” he said. “It was like having a Ferrari but driving it like a grandma – there was no personalisation, and we weren’t set up to full advantage.

“It’s about getting greater engagement with our website – yes we have an older demographic, but we also want to attract the current CEOs and managing directors, who have seen their companies advance through technology. A small percentage of our guests aren’t Web savvy, but many have that knowledge and the old site didn’t take that into account.”

Having gained buy-in at an executive level for a site overhaul in 2014, Gawlinski set out to find a partner who could help him better drive the group’s existing Sitecore technology backbone by tapping into the scalability and flexibility of the platform, as well as its segmentation capabilities. This saw Captain’s Choice bring on IE.

The new website went live in February 2015, with tracking and analytics slowly coming online since then. Importantly, the Sitecore platform has also been integrated with Captain’s Choice’s Salesforce CRM system to capture customer data.

“Now, if I want to add new functionality, that can just be plugged in, which is paying dividends in terms of setting up custom campaign pages, for example,” Gawlinski said. “We pride ourselves on being able to turn things around quickly even though we’re part of a larger organisation.”

One other difference with the new sites is that it’s based around searching for a place to travel to first, rather than by tour type.

“We have proved that people don’t suddenly want to do a cruise or private jet tour, they want to go to a particular region, then they’ll see a great gourmet tour or river cruise to do,” Gawlinski said.

“The site is also giving us better insights into regions people are searching for while they’re on our website, where they are coming from. Based on the reasonably basic personalisation we have set up, we’ve seen an increase of about 5 per cent in our analytics goals completed in the first few weeks.”

Initially, personalisation has been introduced in the form of basic segmentation based on browser behaviour. For example, visitors to the homepage will see a personalised main carousel based on mode of travel, such as expedition, cruising, private jets and luxury cruising.

“If you search for expedition cruises more often than anything else, the site remembers and the expedition cruising carousel will pop up when you arrive back,” Gawlinski explained.

“This removes a couple of button clicks by serving up what we believe you’re interested in more than anything else. Underneath that are feature tours, which are split up by region. If you only visit Europe tours, your homepage will be expedition cruising on top, then tours selected for you in Europe.”

Others tweaks being rolled out include serving information pages based on IP address, so a site visitor will see their local state-based information sessions. For those that request a brochure online and are asked where they heard about its tours, Captain’s Choice will also rejig the list of options so the most relevant information sources appear based on a user’s state location.

“It just makes our reporting that little more accurate in an industry where it’s very hard to get the correct data,” Gawlinski commented.

Other personalisation on its way will be around specific phone numbers for visitors coming from Google AdWords or via emails, he said.


In the first six months since launch, Captain’s Choice had seen a 400 per cent rise in goal conversion rate, such as completing a brochure download, submitting an enquiry or signing up to an information session. This included a 110 per cent increase in brochure requests, and a 300 per cent increase in online information session RSVPs. Importantly, it also saw a 1000 per cent leap in e-newsletter subscriptions, another key aim.

For Gawlinski, the biggest indicator of success is that 30 per cent of the leads generated by its new ‘enquire now’ button online have led to conversions.

“It shows what we are pushing online is closer to what people expect and they’re happy to participate as a result,” he said.

Customer advocacy

Captain’s Choice’s plans for digital don’t stop there, and it’s looking to drive advocacy and loyalty in customers through their booking, pre-tour and post-tour purchase journeys. This will be based around customer logins on the site. This phase of work has been put on hold temporarily, however, while the wider APT business undertakes a customer journey exercise, Gawlinski said.

“Forty per cent of our business is repeat business, so one of our longer-term goals is to get those customers becoming heroes for us online,” he said.

Gawlinski noted customers book tours anything from two months to two years out, making the customer journey a complex process to understand.

“APT is doing the hard work around customer journeys, then we’ll swoop in and customise those things that need to be specific for our guests, their journeys and tours. We’re hoping to have that done by the end of the year,” he said.

Alongside its work on customer login, Captain’s Choice is looking at introducing a mobile app. Another big project on the cards is launching an online booking system.

Because of the intricacies of the tours it offers, this hasn’t previously been considered a possibility, Gawlinski said. But he noted APT is working on a new booking system to launch over the next 18-24 months, and that the success of its ‘enquire now’ button indicates the investment into online booking would be more than covered by its success.

One way Gawlinski also plans to engage with customers is by digitally showcasing photos taken by fellow tour participants and on-road employees to customers via the site. Currently, Captain’s Choice supplies customers with a photo book of their tour experiences.

“Given the style of touring and investment being made by our customers… it’s a very considered decision. Helping customers along from when they request a brochure or call up the sales team to booking, means we are a very personal company,” he said. “Our CEO will call customers personally… and the brochures and EDMs come from our founders, Phil and Kaye Asker.

“So the whole website will eventually be as personal as everything else we do.”

<i>This article originally appeared in CMO Issue 3, 2015. To subscribe to your free copy, sign up online here</i>.

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