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Travel Agency Cruises Online

It’s easy to book a three-hour flight online, but a five-day cruise has a bit more riding on it. That’s why a large, offline travel agency, Uniglobe Travel International, has beefed up its online customer service with a chat room staffed by “cruise travel specialists.” E-mail inquiries are supposedly answered in 20 minutes or less. It seems vacationers who’d rather talk to a live person when planning their trip have no more excuses to stay offline. A PC Computing profile of the company, published last month, said the chat room would set Uniglobe apart. When asked what would distinguish one online travel agency from another, the senior VP replied “Content” - and not just the lame city guides offered by other agencies. Fortune described Uniglobe site features like ship reviews, deck plans, and plenty of details. Still, it’s hard to stay ahead in the content game; as soon as Uniglobe adds a feature, competitors are likely to follow.

Fortune writer Ahmad Diba pointed out a partnership that might be a bigger boon for Uniglobe. Expedia gave Uniglobe a cruise section on its site. Expedia gets a cut of bookings that come to Uniglobe that way, and Uniglobe benefits from standing on the shoulders of online giants.

Both the PC Computing and Fortune articles, though solid, read a bit like press releases. Neither writer seemed to have actually gone into Uniglobe’s famous chat room, or tested the 20-minute promise of its email customer service. Maybe the next journalist that takes on these cruise experts should test the waters