Fred. Olsen

Reimagining the digital experience to inspire travellers to return


Against the backdrop of the pandemic and uncertainty across the sector, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines asked ELSE to reimagine how their digital experience could help them acquire new customers, and inspire greater numbers of travellers to return.

Fred. Olsen recognise that digital has the potential to offer much more to their business. ELSE devised a tactical, sprint-based programme to tackle simpler improvements that could have disproportionally high impact.

Those small changes have delivered significant targeted growth.

Despite the impact of the pandemic – tourism was one of the worst impacted sectors – key performance indicators for the project show that cruise bookings are already increasing.

The results have also demonstrated to stakeholders across the business of the power of insight-driven design. We are now working together to improve every area of the guest journey.

And we’re proud to say that the success of this project has earned us a silver DBA Design Effectiveness Award. For us at ELSE, this really is a great one to win because it celebrates the integral role effective design plays in transforming businesses, improving societies and enhancing people’s live — which is what we’re all about.


All cruising stopped during the pandemic. As a result of COVID-19, the Travel & Tourism sector suffered losses of almost USD 4.5 trillion, with its global contribution to GDP declining by 49.1% compared to 2019.

But Fred. Olsen had ambitious plans to grow. While other cruise lines were retreating and divesting their fleet, they launched two new ships — increasing their capacity and setting ambitious growth targets in motion.

Our brief at ELSE was to improve the experience — on desktop, tablets and on mobile — in order to attract a wider audience, and to provide newcomers with better tools to choose their cruise. We needed to capture what makes a Fred. Olsen journey different. We also wanted to reflect in digital ‘The Olsen Way’ — a set of principles that stand them out from their competition, with a focus on a more personal cruise experience that allows customers to relax and enjoy their journey, without unnecessary interruptions.


  1. Increase bookings made from the website.
  2. Promote discovery across the site to engage people who have cruised, but not with Fred.
  3. Increase data capture through brochure downloads, newsletter sign-ups and account registrations.
  4. Increase referrals to telephone reservation agents from the website.


To help the business hit customer acquisition targets, we introduced a more attractive and engaging visual language to the site.

Before designing our solutions, we identified three browsing behaviours and assessed how well each was supported through the end-to-end website journey:

1. The surgical strike: People who know exactly what they’re looking for, and who focus on booking and prices. Here, the role of the site is to facilitate their booking, while providing clear information.

2. Browse with intent: People know the type of cruise they want but are open to suggestion. Lateral movement through the site becomes very important — to open up a range of options to inspire them.

3. Open discovery: People who browse without a clear focus. This need was least covered by the existing site, which was failing to demonstrate the breadth of offer and help people really get a feel for a Fred. Olsen cruise.

We then defined a tactical improvement programme over four two-week sprints — tackling problems and improvements with lower complexity but disproportionately higher gains.

This included re-designing the navigation structure and visual language, re-claiming the homepage for cruising and search (after a disproportionate focus on customer service and reassurance during the earlier stages of the pandemic), and improving data capture opportunities.

Fred. Olsen navigation pages

We also elevated the role of the itinerary to build excitement and insight into individual cruises, and presented content on landing pages in a more rich and intuitive way.

Fred. Olsen itineraries page

17 redesigned modules went live between December 2020 and February 2021. The results have exceeded all original objectives. While tourism has been one of the worst affected industries by the Covid-19 pandemic, key performance indicators for the project show cruise bookings are up.

Search brochures and bookings Fred.Olsen


Key Objective 1: Increasing online bookings

In just nine months, online bookings have risen substantially and are well on the way to delivering the desired increase.

Key Objective 2: Search bar usage doubled

By redesigning and giving greater prominence to the search bar we have doubled its usage, helping users find cruises that are relevant to them faster. We’ve also seen pages per session increase by 20%, session durations increase by 44% and bounce rate decrease by 23%. This supports our aims of making the site more engaging and encouraging users to stay on the site and discover more cruises and collections.

Changes to the cruise listings and the surfacing of engaging imagery has prolonged users’ time on the page, while better options for discovery and lateral movement has encouraged more page views and reduced exits. Bounce rate on pages with the new search results listing layout have improved by 16%, and bounce rate for the whole site has improved by 13%.

ELSE & Fred Olsen DBA award win results

Key Objective 3: Sign-ups made simpler

Streamlining and reducing friction in the sign-up process has seen a reduction in the bounce rate of 54%, with required sign-up page time coming down by 2 minutes. Registration traffic in Saved Cruises is up by 12%.

Recognition from the business

Of course, you can’t iterate yourself into a market-leader and after the work was completed in February 2021, Fred. Olsen recognised that a step-back was needed to ensure we could now leap ahead, rather than continuing to make small changes.

With that in mind, Fred. Olsen and ELSE have created a Vision to define a user journey through the entire web estate — from consideration, through to booking and into pre-cruise build up. This shows the belief that Fred. Olsen has in continuing the insight-driven design work started during this project.

A response from our client

“This project has over-delivered ROI for our business and opened a digital door to further growth in the cruise market. Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines has a unique approach to cruising and we are now moving towards an experience online that truly reflects our character, and which appeals to our most important audience”

Alicia Coghlan, Head of Marketing, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines

“It was vital for us to find a digital partner who could both match our ambitions for the business and had the design process that could align our stakeholders. In this focused piece of work, you’ve shown what user-centred design can do for Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines — having a significant impact on revenue at a challenging time — and we now look forward to expanding our vision across the digital estate.”

Ben Williams, Head of Digital, Fred. Olsen Cruise Lines