The operator’s new chief executive tells Hollie-Rae Merrick he has ambitions for his three brands beyond selling Archers through the trade

The new boss of Cosmos Tours & Cruises has wasted no time in launching a charm offensive to the travel trade.

Within days of joining the business this month, Giles Hawke announced plans to switch the Archers Holidays brand from direct-sell to a trade operator.

He has also begun a review of Cosmos Tours’ commission structure, the size of its sales team and its product offering, and claims all this is being done to ensure his brands “are fully supporting the trade in every way imaginable”.

The former MSC Cruises executive director believes supporting agents will help to grow his three brands – Archers Holidays, Cosmos Tours and Cruises, and Avalon Waterways.

“Support from us for the trade comes from support from the trade for us,” he said.

“It’s a two-way relationship and they go hand in hand.”

Hawke was announced as the new chief executive of Cosmos Tours in February.

Prior to that he was executive director at MSC Cruises with responsibility for the UK, Ireland and Australia markets.

But many in the trade will remember Hawke best from his time at Carnival UK. He joined the cruise giant in 2002 as head of sales and was promoted to sales and customer services director in 2008. During his time in the latter role, P&O Cruises and Cunard cut commission to 5% in a bid to stop discounting in the sector.

Fresh look

Hawke says that upon taking up his role at Cosmos, he wanted to question things to understand why they are how they are, with an intention to “improve to grow”.

“I came in knowing I had 
three brands – Cosmos Tours & Cruises, Avalon Waterways and Archers Holidays – but I wanted to know why Archers was direct‑only,” he says.

“There were no clear or reason to explain why it was direct. If there’s nothing preventing us working with the trade then we should be doing just that.”

Hawke says his decision to widen Archers’ distribution to include the trade came about out of concern that customers trying to book through an agent were either switch-sold to a different operator or the agent would lose the booking altogether and the customer would book direct instead.

Despite Cosmos Tours & Cruises and Archers offering the same product, Hawke says not all in the trade would be aware of that and therefore would not always switch a customer to Cosmos.

“I don’t want agents to have any doubt in their mind that we’re pushing direct over trade, because that’s not how it is,” he says.

“There will be some agents out there that won’t work with us currently because an element of our business is direct.

“I want the trade to know that we fully support them.

“We know the trade is key, and opening Archers Holidays to the trade reflects this. The Archers customer is extremely loyal and it’s a great way for agents to tap into a new audience.”

Hawke says there is no need to train and educate agents on the Archers product because it is a “mirror image of Cosmos”.

Booking portal

Currently, agents booking Cosmos Tours or Avalon Waterways have to call to book, but Hawke intends to introduce an online booking portal.

He admits that the brands aren’t the easiest to book, particularly for homeworkers who don’t necessarily work the same hours as Cosmos Tours’ call centre.

“It seems crazy to me that agents can only book us over the phone at the moment,” he says.

“That needs to change and we will be working on an online portal where all three brands can be booked with ease. We need to be accessible to agents 24/7 and be easy to do business with.”

Name game

Hawke says the brand needs to be better at shouting about its existence and questions whether some agents realise the Cosmos name is “still alive and kicking”.

Cosmos Tours & Cruises split from Cosmos Holidays in 2014 after the latter was sold to Monarch Travel Group.

The iconic brand name was dropped and now trades under Monarch Holidays, but Cosmos is in the process of trying to get the Cosmos Holidays name back.

Sales force

The company has three people out on the road meeting agents around the country: national sales manager Paul Sharp; Kelly Calver, who looks after the south; and Sarah Ashmore, who looks after the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland. They are supported by James Mortimer who is based in the company’s office in Bromley.

Hawke says that over time he will review the size of the team, but insists the team will only expand with growing support from the trade, adding: “The more agents support us, the more we’ll support them with people on the road.”

Product mix

Hawke believes his brands need to be better at bringing experiences to life and plans to launch brochures that will “inspire” customers to book a holiday.

The company’s website too will be revamped and include fuller details of all tours offered.

Hawke has brought in a new marketing director, Claire Hazle, who he says will help transform and grow the business. Hazle previously worked at Carnival UK, but most recently was head of digital for Marie Curie UK.

In future, all the Cosmos Tours and Archers brochures will include a page about Avalon Waterways, and vice versa, to help drive customers to buy a mix of holidays from across the group.

Hawke has tasked a team to assess whether Cosmos and Archers need to have product differentiation. He also has his sights set on attracting younger customers and hinted at attracting a younger demographic across the three brands.