January 29, 2013
Case Study

Email Marketing: Expedia Cruise Ship Centers uses data-triggered human interaction to increase bookings 81%

SUMMARY: Aligning data with real people is a difficult line to walk for many marketers. However, using data effectively can help personalize email, a tactic 32% of marketers find effective according to MarketingSherpa's 2012 Email Marketing

In this case study, read how Expedia Cruise Ship Centers used the information it had on past customers and integrated it with its telephone sales force.
by Courtney Eckerle, Reporter


Expedia Cruise Ship Centers has been building up a robust email marketing program over the past seven years. However, while building up that program, the marketing team has also been accumulating a lot of data that could be used for smarter marketing.

"Over the last several years, we have really been looking at email marketing. It gets more and more challenging and cluttered because everyone is into email marketing at a very rapid pace," said Dave Mossop, Manager of Interactive Marketing, Expedia Cruise Ship Centers.

Mossop added that Expedia Cruise Ship Centers is constantly looking for ways to use the data its team has collected to create a way of reaching its customers more efficiently, and in tandem with its significant travel agent work force.

"We try to find a way to kind of get smarter and not really send a lot more email but at the same time get more out of the email campaigns," he said.


Expedia Cruise Ship Centers is an offshoot of Expedia, with both brick-and-mortar retail locations and many home-based independent sales agents.

With all these individual travel agents, in Expedia Cruise Ship Centers' email marketing system, every email piece is personalized from travel agents to their own contacts. Some independent travel agents will have an email list size up to 3,000 people, Mossop said.

"So every agent basically has their own subscriber and contact list. We have grown a massive database that has gotten to the point that it is so large that identifying the ideal people to phone … is very difficult," he said.

His team has found "a way to step back, and look at the data it actually gives us," he added.

The team's goal with the "Legendary Rivers Campaign" was to maximize its independent travel agent’s time, as well as providing a personal experience when agents contact potential customers. To do this, Marketing created a system that integrated email data with the personal touch of one of its agents.

An email sent out to Expedia Cruise Ship Center’s customer list as part of the "Legendary Rivers Campaign" included an offer to learn more about a river cruise. As soon as a customer clicked a link to watch the video inside, their travel agent received a notification of their interest.

"So [agents] end up picking up the phone, calling this person who has shown some sort of interest … and put them really in the number one spot to phone them the next day and talk to them in person and answer any questions, and talk about the sale a little further."

Mossop said they have been slowly building this technology over the past year, and finally launched it in June 2012. It was built around their industry’s leading sales period, "where we sell more cruises on one day than anyone else in the industry."

He added, "It really is a little bit of manipulative trigger email marketing campaign, and the only difference is rather than going to the customer, it is going to the travel agent."

Step #1. Choose a compelling offer for your audience

A promotion, called Legendary Rivers, was done earlier in the year and focused solely on river cruising, according to Mossop.

River cruising was chosen for this email campaign because it is unfamiliar to many people, but "it is one of the fastest growing segments of the cruise market, and it is really catching a lot of attention," he added.

Many of Expedia Cruise Ship Center's customers are interested in learning more about the topic, which would make it ideal for catching attention in this campaign with an information-rich video presentation.

Mossop said his team believed this email would provide "a lot of value … to our customers, and it demystified what [river cruising] is and what it is all about."

Step #2. Send an email for a high-value product to past customers

After choosing the offer, Expedia Cruise Ship Center began by segmenting its list into prospects and past customers.

With the high-yielding product of river cruising, the team decided to specifically target people who had previously booked because "they have the highest propensity to book this product," according to Mossop.

To slowly push out this campaign, Mossop said Marketing segmented the customer list by first pushing it out to 20% of its list of previous customers. After receiving "great feedback the next day," Marketing sent it out to the remaining 80% of previous customers.

The email opens with a picture and graphic prompting the subscriber to "Watch our Exclusive Legendary Rivers Video Presentation." Below that, customers see a short letter explaining the allure of a river cruise, as well as bullet points detailing possible savings for buying at this time.

To the side of the letter, a picture of the customer’s travel agent invites customers to "Contact Me Today."

The main call-to-action for this send is for the customer to watch a five-minute video on river cruising, listed twice as "Learn More About This Exclusive Offer" and "Watch Now" below a description of the video presentation.

By clicking any of the prompts to watch the video on river cruises, customers are led to a gateway page to provide limited information before proceeding on to the video.

Step #3. Prompt customer to supply limited information

When the customer clicks a link, a gateway page greets them, asking for their name and phone number.

Expedia Cruise Ship Centers already has that information, so this request serves the purpose of being a way to "softly" let them know to expect a call from the travel agent, according to Mossop.

By submitting this information, the customer is unwittingly sending the email alert to the travel agent that they have done so.

"This is a pure blind action to them," said Mossop, and they are unaware that the email has been sent to their travel agent.

Because river cruises are a high-end product, the logic is that if a customer is willing to give over information to learn more and sit through the five-minute video, they have a high enough interest for an agent to invest time over the phone. After being educated by the video, the agent will also have to spend less time explaining the value to the customer.

Mossop reported that of those who clicked the link to the gateway page, 72% filled out the capture form and moved on to the video.

Step #4. Send triggered email to individual travel agent

The second they hit the submit button, Mossop said, a triggered email would be sent to let their travel agent know a specific customer had watched the video.

"The travel agent the next day would phone them up, talk about the video, and talk about the promotion and so forth," he said.

The triggered email sent to the travel agent contains a deep link to Expedia Cruise Ship Center’s CRM system, CruiseDesk, which supplies the agent with the customer’s past booking information and contact information.

It also gives the agent a call script and the ability to watch the video themselves to brush up on the information the customer should already possess.

"Our travel agents love it for the fact that it makes their life a little easier, and instead of having a 2,000-person subscriber list, they can keep the 20 that clicked on their email. … It makes it a lot more manageable, a lot more intuitive for them," Mossop said.

In spite of filling out the form with contact information, Mossop said many customers believe it is "almost by coincidence the next day that their travel agent phones them."

Step #5. Prompt travel agents to telephone customers

The next day, the travel agent could phone the customer, talk about the video they had seen, and discuss the promotion.

"The customer does not instantly read an email and book a $5,000 cruise," Mossop said. "It happens once in a while and not as frequently as you would like, obviously."

Telephoning the customer after they express that initial interest helps to move them along to purchasing because when the agent calls them, it "brings that sale alive."

The agent can talk about all they offer, including low deposits and refundable tickets up to the sailing date. They can also discuss amenities and perks, where Mossop said, "The agent really sells it, and adds that incentive to book now."

"It goes from an email to an email visiting a website, to an agent talking about it further, so it is really all these angles coming together and the customers ultimately realize it is a great time to book."

Mossop said they have had great stories come out of this campaign, "The travel agent … phones them up the next day and sell five or six cabins for a family cruise just because the agent ended up phoning them and they got them in the right time and the right mind-set."


"I think the biggest takeaway is that we are sitting on a lot of data," said Mossop. "Everything that we do as a travel agent now generates data."

The hope, Mossop said, is going into future campaigns to use all the data they have to match "relevant content to the right people."

Mossop said a great part of this campaign's success has been the response from Expedia Cruise Ship Centers' agents, including one who emailed them saying, "Hi, I just want to say, this is amazing. Anyone who says we do not have the most amazing systems is nuts. You guys are dropping business right into our laps. My compliments to you."

The clickthrough rate for this campaign was found to be lower than usual, but Mossop said they suspected it was because the email was centered on a niche product.
  • Of those who clicked through to the gateway page, 72% ended up filling out the capture form and moving on to the video.

  • During the Legendary Rivers promotion, Expedia Cruise Ship Centers saw an 81% increase in booked river cruises over the same time the previous year.

Email Statistics
  • Open rate: 22.9%

  • Clickthrough rate: 3.2%

  • Unsubscribe rate: less than 1%

"As a sales organization, we always want to think that email marketing will sell everything, but it is getting to the point that human interaction and our travel agents are selling it, by picking up the phone and building the relationships," said Mossop.

He added that, "We have really built an email marketing program that complements real-life human beings, taking the time to build relationships and ultimately sell cruises that way."

Dave Mossop will be speaking at MarketingSherpa Email Summit 2013 in Las Vegas, February 19-22, in a session entitled "Leveraging Personalization: Segmentation and Behavioral Analytics to Drive Sales."

Creative Samples

  1. Email sent to customer

  2. Prompt to watch video

  3. Triggered email sent to travel agent


Expedia Cruise Ship Centers

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