After a long, azure stretch of open ocean, cruise ship passengers are often looking for the best means of stretching their restless sea legs. Founded in the spring of 2009 by Jeff Fanning, Liquid Alaska Tours saw the opportunity to create more value in that space where cruise tourists can find their adventurous bearing on land during their sojourn at port. After having worked in the industry for several years, Jeff was surprised that no vendors had taken advantage of the opportunity to centralize tour sales. Previously, vendors either sold tours to cruise ships – who in turn sold them to passengers at a substantial mark-up – or to passengers directly. A centralized system that provided all tours available at a given port that could be accessed in advance of arrival (usually online), as well as a kiosk on the dock for those who failed to book in advance, would provide better access, service, options, and prices for eager tourists.
The crux of their value proposition is how Liquid Alaska disrupts the pricing of tours in this market. Typically cruise lines offer the same tours that vendors sell on land but at a far higher price, whereas shore-bound vendors would rely on higher volumes but at lower margins. By creating an online marketplace where passengers could book in advance, it rewards them with lower prices and a reserved position on a tour, and it provides the seller the means to smooth sales revenue in advance of the inundation of tourists when a cruise ship arrives at port. Fortunately, Jeff’s entrepreneurial acumen proved insightful, and in five years, the Alaska native was able to grow his company substantially, ultimately acquiring the assets of a global tour provider and bringing them under the umbrella of his company. Now, Liquid Alaska – Port Promotions operates in over 200 ports around the world and favorable winds are blowing it toward even greater expansion.
The company has fundamentally positioned itself as a comprehensive tour broker that offers shore excursions at wholesale rates. It is difficult to segment the target consumer in this space, given the nature of the cruise ship industry, but broadly speaking it is the cruise ship passenger looking for an onshore excursion. Jeff pointed out that his ‘target’ demographic is between 30 and 70 years of age and, generally speaking, the younger half is more inclined to access his services online and the greying half can be found in port, at the kiosks. Very early on, the first customers were acquired the old fashioned way: in person, on the dock. However, that quickly gave way with growth and today Liquid Alaska – Port Promotions reaches out largely through digital channels, from online publication advertisements to Google AdWords to the standard players in social media.
It is an exciting industry but is not without its quirks – such as a near non-existed customer retention rate (as expensive cruises tend to be once-in-a-lifetime expenditures) – but the growth and promise of new ports ahead make sailing these entrepreneurial waters rewarding, exciting, and full of new horizons. Land, ho!