Kyle Haughton, Managing Director at City Cruises, talks to Amy Moore about recent and upcoming company developments aboard the R.S. Hispaniola
Hispaniola is City Cruises’ permanently moored vessel at Embankment, neatly converted into a restaurant and bar overlooking the River Thames.
“The Hispaniola used to be a ferry transporter in Scotland. There was a plan to have all heritage boats along the Embankment and Hispaniola was brought to London as one of these heritage boats. It now operates as a restaurant/bar, with two outside decks and a downstairs function room. Below, there’s the ‘ward-room’, where you can have private dining or meetings,” said Kyle. I had arrived a little early and therefore assumed a seat on the rear deck, snapping pictures of City Cruises vessels passing by. The day before, I had embarked on one of City Cruises’ popular dining cruises, complete with afternoon tea fare. Inside, Hispaniola oozes suave and sophistication, by no means overshadowed by the London Eye. Kyle arrived around 1630hrs and kindly offered me a drink before settling into conversation.
“I’ve been with City Cruises for three and a half years. We’ve had two record-breaking years in turn over of profit. We’ve expanded the business and we’ve re-structured the management team, appointing new people to service the trade. We’ve always been very big in sightseeing, but we’ve also developed our dining programme.
City Cruises offer a range of specialist cruises. We started off with jazz, we have an Elvis cruise coming soon and we also have an Indian dinner cruise, which we trialled with the trade. We’ll be launching that in August”. Last year, we purchased a business in Poole, where we now have two boats operating. They travel around Poole Harbour, which is the largest natural harbour in Europe. We also have a boat that travels along to Swanage, just past the Jurassic Coast. Last year, we launched Thamesjet, with two speedboat rides from Westminster to Canary Wharf. With Thamesjet, we’ve tried to create a theme park ride on the River, which has never been done before. Along with iconic London beats, we commissioned Alan Ford from the movie Snatch to provide the commentary.
City Cruises delivers a range of products to the trade.
For groups, we give a 10% discount for parties of 20 or more. In addition, where groups are very tight on their time schedule, we created a product called the Thames Circular Cruise, where you can book a guaranteed departure time.The Circular Cruise can carry up to 150 people.
“We looked at the quality of the operation and about three years ago, we launched our own internal CSQ programme. We’re scoring 9.3 in terms of satisfaction and 70 in terms of recommendation. So, we actually deliver a very high satisfaction level to people who get on board our boats, which is very important to us. “City Cruises is a company that has always engaged with the trade on a much higher level. Investing in technology and issuing rates 18 months in advance has allowed pre-booking to be done a lot earlier, which means we can plan our schedules accordingly and we can deliver more capacity based on trade business.
“My role is to get the right people doing the right things at the right time in the right place. That’s the organisation aspect; the other aspect is to look six months, 12 months or three years ahead. My job is to look at what opportunities there are on the market, but also to make sure the team have the facilities and resources they need to grow the business. We’re very keen for City Cruises to differentiate its product. That’s where the quality of boats is important, the quality of the commentary that we provide, the quality of bar service that we give, which sets us apart from all the other boat operators on the Thames. “City Cruises is a privately owned company founded by Gary Beckwith with one boat, and now we have 19 boats in the fleet. We are the biggest operator in terms of fleet and passengers on the Thames. We move four million passengers annually.
“Sightseeing is predominantly where we started and across the year, it is the dominant product that we have. In the winter, our dining programme really comes through. All our products have discounted rates for trade. The London Showboat includes a welcome glass of fizz, half a bottle of wine and a four-course meal; a cabaret singer and you get a disco at the end. Also, you see London at night. London during the day is one thing, but seeing London at night is a totally different experience. During the day we run lunch, afternoon tea and an early evening Sundowner/ Riverlights cruise complete with a glass of fizz and canapés.“What we find exciting is that everyone is a customer. There’s a huge market right on our doorstep. All we need to do is tap into that with a good product that is professionally run and well marketed.
“Planning the season, we look at what we did last year and where we want to improve, with members of staff tasked with growing our trade business. They will attend various trade shows to meet new customers, and also work with our existing trade partners to grow their business. Ultimately, it’s about driving income and profit.” City Cruises has begun targeting trade at source, with members of staff travelling overseas to pitch to potential trade partners who may wish to plan an overseas trip to the UK. London is very high on most people’s itineraries, with City Cruises already looking ahead to 2016/2017.
Based in Redhill, Kyle Haughton’s typical week begins on a 0633hrs train into London. “I’ll come in Monday morning and the first thing I’ll be looking at is how the weekend went. Weekends are the busiest time for us. We have a Monday afternoon trading meeting, where we go through the sales of the last week, which then formulates our tactical activity. Incentive deals, for example. I have a weekly conference call with Poole, monthly management meetings and one to one’s with my team. We have a process, whereby we break the year into quarters and we set objectives that we want to achieve. It’s all about having those steps. “I try to make sure we build sustainable differentiation. City Cruises travels to all the key piers in London, and not every boat company has that. We do a lot on the welcome and departure. People don’t just come on the boat; they are welcomed by the cabin crew. In the summer months, we will be loading 900 people every 15 minutes.” City Cruises aims to encourage feedback through customer satisfaction questionnaires, mystery shoppers and FEEFO, meaning anyone booking with City Cruises will receive an automated feedback email, with results presented on the City Cruises website (www.citycruises.com). City Cruises have consistently achieved 95%, which means they are FEEFO accredited for Great Service.
“Travel agents have direct booking access into our system. Previously, they would have had to call. We will shortly be introducing XML feeds to further automate our response to bookings. That means, virtually, we are open 24 hours a day.
“Punctuality is a key driver for us at the moment; making sure boats arrive on time and depart on time. We will be expanding our jet boat programme, which has been hugely successful. Showboat has extended to seven days a week compared to three days a week three years ago. Our afternoon tea and lunches have extended to five days a week. That’s important for the trade, because it means more sailings and more capacity. We’re looking at how we can improve Poole, where we can expand into other regional areas and also international areas. “On the back of London growing, the London operation will continue to develop and we will continue to improve our product and improve the proposition that we have to travel agents. I think we will expand into other regional areas. Wherever there’s water, we can do it.”