Interview: Edwina Lonsdale on the future of GSAs

Standing in Mundy Cruising’s new office in London’s Russell Square, managing director Edwina Lonsdale is weighing up the future of the general sales agency model.

In May, the veteran cruise agent closed Mundy’s GSA arm The Cruise Portfolio after 31 years following the collapse of its primary client, Crystal Cruises (Windstar Cruises and Paul Gauguin Cruises were also on the GSA’s books at the time).

The GSA’s 15 staff helped refund around 1,000 Crystal customers to the tune of £3 million before they were made redundant and left The Cruise Portfolio.

Head of reservations Margaret Eva, who was the fifteenth and final employee to leave, finished last month after almost 13 years at The Cruise Portfolio. The pain of their departures contributed to a change in opinion for Lonsdale about the GSAs.

She says: “To be honest the general sales agency model is outdated. There are so many other ways to make reservations now.”

Lonsdale points out that there’s still “a huge dependency” on travel agents to make luxury cruise bookings but adds: “The fact that we have had our fingers burnt so badly only after 31 years would make any other company cautious [about setting up a GSA].

“[Our situation] would certainly make other companies would stop and think.”

She recently confirmed discussions with A&K Travel Group over potential partnerships following the company’s acquisition of two of Crystal’s former ships – Symphony and Serenity.

Clearly, any future relationships would be through Lonsdale’s classic cruise sales arm, Mundy Cruising, which is now run from a smaller office space a mile or so from the old site in Fitzrovia.

Lonsdale describes selling the Fitzrovia office which she had for 13 years as “bittersweet”. “[The office] was our pension plan,” she explains. “But the sale enabled us to pay all the money that Crystal owned to UK guests.”

Lonsdale is frustrated that Genting Hong Kong – the former parent of Crystal Cruises – walked away without being liable for any refunds.

“It just seems so wrong,” explains Lonsdale. “We did feel quite bitter that the owners of Genting Hong Kong although multibillionaires walked away without having to pay anything and a tiny little company like ours had that liability.”

Lonsdale says bookings through her retail businesses Mundy Cruising and expedition cruise-focused Mundy Adventures were “very strong”.

Classic cruise sales are 11.5% up against 2019 and expedition cruise bookings are more than 100% ahead over the first six months of this year.

Lonsdale believes the ultra-luxury cruise sector has a “very exciting future” and her business is reaping the rewards of years of investment.

“There are lots of ultra-luxury products with a lot of cruise lines,” she explains. “The one that has been really successful is Mundy Adventures’ expedition cruises.

“The bookings take a lot of time. We’ve been investing in that market for many years. It’s not something that you can enter overnight as you need to be really confident because customers have a huge number of questions.”

Lonsdale promises to bring together former staff from The Cruise Portfolio and existing employees at Mundy Cruising for a leaving do.

“Once the dust has settled, and we have had a chance to draw breath, we want to bring back the whole team [for a party],” she says.

“That includes our Mundy team as well. We’ve all worked together for so many years. It’s emotional thing for us.”

Emotions aside, the future looks bright for Lonsdale and her staff with sales markedly up across both businesses and the failure of Crystal Cruises behind them.

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