Putting The Customer First
This summer, Elizabeth Crabill was appointed CEO of CIE Tours, taking over from Brian Stack, who retired after 26 years and is now serving as the company’s president emeritus.
In the past, she has served as vice president of sales and marketing for Lindblad Expeditions, president of Travel Bound and vice president of sales for GTA Americas. We sat down with Crabill to talk about her objectives for the company going forward – including the importance of maintaining CIE’s extremely high customer satisfaction ratings.
How does it feel to take over a popular company from a very successful predecessor, Brian Stack?
Before I came to CIE Tours I spoke to everyone I knew in the industry about CIE, and in different ways everyone said the same thing: CIE Tours is an incredible company. They have a great team and their product is spectacular.
When I heard that again and again, I decided I’ve got to find out what Brian was doing. How does a company get this reputation? I think it’s a real testament to Brian, not only how he led CIE Tours for 26 years, but also to the team he built and its passion. The amount of respect and admiration people have for CIE is outstanding. I was very happy about that.
How important is the personal factor in business – particularly in the tour operator industry?
It goes a long way, and when you have year after year to build on it, it really starts to amplify. Brian and I have spent a lot of time together, and still spend a lot of time together. He was telling me that when he came into this company it was a tiny piece of [the overall tour operator] business.
CIE has not only been really successful at growing the revenues, it has also become a leader in Irish and now British specialist travel. Within the trade, CIE Tours and Ireland are very much synonymous, and the business has grown tremendously. Brian said, “Who knew this thing would become so huge?”
And I said to him, “Well, you knew. You saw it and figured out ways to make it grow, so clearly you had a vision for it.” It’s a real testament to long-term stick-to-itiveness. CIE has created something the trade feels is very special. I am delighted to take over that, and to have Brian continue to be part of our organization’s heritage and foundation. CIE is very lucky to have the best of both worlds: a company that has grown so much because of the people here, and to have the leader continue to be dedicated to keeping that legacy going.
How often are you in contact with Brian Stack?
We’re quite diligent about keeping in touch about things that are coming out and opportunities for the company. After 26 years, as you can imagine, he’s not going to get far from thinking about opportunities for CIE. He’s happy to be in the role of looking for ways to help grow that brand.
What are your overall objectives as CEO of CIE Tours?
Once I put together a picture of how CIE got its reputation and maintained it – along with the people behind the scenes who represent that reputation – the key thing I want to understand and capture is what it is that we do so well. How do you maintain that when you have a period of transition with Brian retiring? In identifying what is going right, far and above everything else it is the customer experience.
Our customer surveys show a 97 percent average satisfaction rating. It is clear that while we put together a plan for growing CIE to its next phase and continue to grow revenue and stay profitable, we have to protect what the company is most excellent at, which is providing a far superior customer service experience.
How will CIE keep customer satisfaction at those high levels?
Being a specialist in Ireland and Britain, we’re not a global company. We don’t sell 40 different destinations. So we have to service people who are very interested in this region. We have to provide them the variety of products that makes sense within our area of specialty and that makes it attractive to go more than one time with us.
We’ve had success in developing newer products that combine Ireland, Scotland and England. We want to continue to work on reaching out to new customers, working with the trade and travel agents who understand the new opportunities and types of travel.
We are known for coach tours. That’s our core product experience that we get 97 percent satisfaction ratings from. But the question is how have people changed their preferences? How are they going to change over the next three, five and 10 years? Are we ready to service customers who may want something in addition to, or instead of, a coach tour? That’s something we want to look at. I don’t think it’s a huge transformation for a company like CIE, because what we are strongest at is service delivery and destination expertise. People want to have different options for tours.
So how do we service that? If we can maintain the core and the excellence of our service delivery, and extend that to new product categories and styles of travel, that will open the opportunity for new customers and help us to grow.
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A version of this article appears in print in the August 2016 issue of Vacation Agent Magazine.
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