From Startup to Success Story: Aqua Expeditions

May 14, 2014

The Challenge…

In February of 2006, Francesco Gulli Zugaro was sitting in a session at the Adventure Travel Tradeshow led by Annie Ellicott of Leapup Marketing. Approaching Annie after the session, he introduced himself and told her he planned to leave the Galapagos where he was living and start a luxury cruise business.  In 2007, Francesco launched Aqua Expeditions, custom designing and building the company’s first cruiseship, the Aqua Amazon, sailing an unexplored section of the Amazon River in Peru.  In 2008, Francesco called Annie at Leapup Marketing and they began working on a plan to launch and expand leads and sales for his company.

Leapup Leaps In…

Leapup began assisting Aqua Expeditions, conducting a site diagnostic to identify opportunities for enhancing the messaging and content, imagery/design, usability, features and functionality and search engine friendliness of the Aqua Expedition’s website. Competitive sites were evaluated and keyword research was conducted to identify opportunities for reach and conversions. Recommending a new site, Leapup worked with the team at Aqua Expeditions to launch a new online look in the Fall of 2008, significantly expanding the company’s footprint online.

In 2009, with increased organic traffic, publicity and referral networks, Aqua Expeditions continued to grow in popularity and size and added a second Amazon cruiseship, the Aqua Aria in 2010. Leapup managed the marketing integration with messaging, site enhancements, search optimization and marketing recommendations. Two foreign language sites were launched in 2011. And in the fall of 2012, Aqua Expeditions continued its expansion adding a new destination, the Mekong River in Vietnam and Cambodia,  and cruiseship, the Aqua Mekong.  Leapup again assisted, assimilating a new set of destination content, trip itineraries, maps and messaging into www.Aqua Expedition.com and continuing to consult with Francesco’s team re marketing strategies to increase reach, leads and sales.

By 2013, with 3 cruiseships and a well-established position in the luxury cruise niche, it was time to invest in additional marketing resources to leverage the company’s assets. Leapup recommended a relaunch of the Aqua Expeditions website in order to add a more flexible site foundation, add site features and functionality, make the site visually stunning and expand e-marketing and social media traction. Launched in December of 2013 with the assistance of a new site developer, the new site integrated an open source CMS with a mobile-responsive design, added a blog and slideshows and functionality which allowed for content post syndication throughout the site tying blogpost feeds into destination, cruiseship and cruise pages. An intranet resource library was added for Aqua Expedition’s travel agent and media audiences allowing them to download up to date imagery, company logos and sales kit tools as well as detailed cruise and itinerary information.

Francesco also asked Annie to coordinate his now global team of marketing experts which spanned marketing communications, PR, social media and e-marketing, SEM and SEO and copywriting across 4 continents. In early 2013, Leapup developed an editorial calendar to coordinate content curation and development for the extended Aqua marketing and PR teams. New pay per click and Facebook advertising campaigns were added and e-marketing campaigns were added reaching out to cross-sell Mekong product to past guests and inquiries. Finally, a video and image library strategy was developed in partnership with company guides out in the field armed with GoPro cameras to capture ongoing guest experiences while on their Aqua Expedition’s cruises.

Leapup’s Leverage…

Since the original site’s launch in Fall 2008, traffic to www.aquaexpeditions.com has increased 5-fold. Overall traffic  and organic traffic have increased 14% since last year with the new site launch and pages/visit and average duration growing by 6% and 31% respectively. Most importantly, site conversions have grown by 338% in comparison to last year. Social media engagement including likes on Facebook have grown by 2.2x in the last year primarily via organic reach but with a low cost ($0.08) for even paid likes. Consumer e-letters are being well received with an open rate of 47% and clickthrough rates of 18%. The company’s publicity reach via Aqua’s two PR agencies continues to be exceptional.