When Royal Caribbean International's new 220,000-ton Oasis of the Seas launches later next year, agents and consumers alike will discover innovations in ship design and onboard features that sail beyond the blue horizon. Adam Goldstein, the line's president and CEO, puts it this way: "In essence, we are the brand that delivers the 'wow.'"
An artist's rendering of Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas
Travel Agent recently chatted with Goldstein and Vicki Freed, CTC, senior vice president of sales and trade support & services, to discuss the ship’s launch and other trade-focused highlights. Certainly, industry excitement for the new ship’s launch is high as the line approaches the 40th anniversary of its founding in 2009.
Home ported in Port Everglades, FL, the 5,400-guest Oasis of the Seas, the world’s soon-to-be-largest vessel, will offer guests a new neighborhood concept of seven distinct themed areas. These include Central Park, Boardwalk, the Royal Promenade, the Pool and Sports Zone, Vitality at Sea Spa and Fitness Center and Entertainment Place.
In the latest “reveal” in mid-September at the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. national conference onboard a Royal Caribbean ship, new features of Entertainment Place were unveiled. Among them are the Blaze Nightclub, a Comedy Live venue, the intimate Jazz on 4 lounge and Dazzles for dancing. Check out www.oasisoftheseas.com for details.
Previously announced innovations on Oasis of the Seas include the Aqua Theater, an outdoor amphitheater with a water show in a deep-water pool. “Vacations don’t stop on land [in terms of new developments], so there is no reason to stop on the water,” Goldstein says. “Vacations are a huge industry and a very competitive one. We’re not just competing with other cruise lines, but with other vacation choices.”
An artist's rendering of the Oasis of the Seas' Aqua Theater at night
From one trade perspective, “the folks at RCI have quickly become the masters of advertising and hype over the past few years because of all the unique additions that they have made to each new vessel,” says Jim Sweat, managing director of travel agency services, AAA Auto Club South. “This has not only inspired their past passengers, but has also brought a lot of new cruise passengers to the industry.”
Goldstein firmly believes innovation is crucial in attracting and retaining guests. “It literally means that we are constantly coming up with things,” he emphasizes. “I can’t imagine stagnating. It’s in our DNA to keep coming up with things.” And while “Oasis allows us to crystallize the platform,” Goldstein says the innovation must—and does—extend to the entire fleet of 21 ships.
An artist's rendering of an Oasis of the Seas Royal Loft Suite living room and dining area
“All our ships are either new or revitalized,” he says. Recent enhancements include wireless and cell phone access along with 50,000 new mattresses fleetwide. “We can’t add ice skating rinks [to all ships space-wise], but we can add rock walls, [and have done so],” Goldstein says.
The average age of a Royal Caribbean guest from North America is 42 to 43. Many guests are part of a multi-generational family group. Goldstein says the line is still predominantly North American in sourcing, but over the past decade that’s dropped from 90 percent to 75 percent, depending on when and where the ships sail.
Working With Agents
More than 20,000 retailers currently sell Royal Caribbean. Right now, with all the Oasis hoopla, “many agents are being very smart in going after the past-guest database,” says Freed. A cruise industry veteran, Freed arrived at Royal Caribbean earlier this year and found a good sales foundation. “It’s just looking at the product with a different set of eyes,” she says. She’s also focused on beefing up the line’s “easy to do business with” trade mantra.
Still, “when I got here, I was flooded with e-mails from people who knew me, saying, ‘You gotta fix the group department,’” she says. That effort has been under way for some time, actually. Ultimately, Royal Caribbean tapped into its advisory board of trade experts for advice, ran proposed changes by them and unveiled the revised Groups Your Way policies just a few months ago.
In essence, travel agents said they needed more time to hold onto their cruise space in order to sell affinity groups. Now the line will hold space without a deposit for up to six months or until final payment, whichever comes first. Other new policies also apply to group space that requires a deposit. “In my opinion, RCI has always been easy to do business with, except in their group department when they changed their policy a few years ago,” says Sal Scannella, owner/manager, Princess Travel in Staten Island, NY. “I understand why they did it [back then], but that didn’t help when you needed more time to promote a group. Not all group situations are the same. I am so happy they have revised their group policy.”
Agents also appreciate that Freed, who began her career as a sales representative calling on travel agents, is accessible. She gives out her direct phone number to agents (305-539-6031). She answers agent questions and deals with trade issues at [email protected], and conducts one-hour webinars with agents several times a quarter. In a recent webinar, Freed talked about events for Oasis of the Seas, outlined trade tools and answered agent questions.
Freed also enjoys getting out in the field to sense the trade pulse. She recently visited several New Jersey and New York-area travel agencies. Having never met Freed previously, Scannella was impressed when she showed up with pen and paper in hand and a desire to listen. “I made two suggestions about the reservation faxes we receive and the next day the suggestions and changes were made,” says Scannella. “I couldn’t believe it.” Scannella also says Freed provided advice on dealing with clients that he is now putting into action. “A handwritten note from Vicki followed a few days after her visit,” he says. “It was the icing on the cake.”
Agents can expect more of this personal contact. “Starting this October, we’re going to be realigning our sales territories,” says Freed. Business development managers (BDMs) will now call on every travel partner, including the smaller partners and mom-and-pop agencies. “Basically, anybody who raises their hand will get a sales call,” she adds. “If you want sales support, just e-mail me. While we do a good job of servicing agents by phone, it does make a difference when you get to know someone face to face.” Staffing for inside sales will also increase.
Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Match, the line’s electronic reservations booking engine, now has group availability; agents may block groups and manage those online. Goldstein also says the line has introduced Countdown to Cruise, a platform for communications for agents to use with their clients in the months between booking and sailing. It’s designed as a teaser to build the client’s pre-cruise excitement.
From a marketing perspective, a new TV brand campaign will launch later this fall. Agents can also tap into customized tools and HTML kits at www.cruisingpower.com, and get alerts from Royal Caribbean’s VIP CruisePass system 24 hours before a promotion goes out. “It’s an insider, heads-up notice via e-mail,” notes Freed.
Another nifty marketing tool is eConnect. Agents select a ship and sailing date, receive a quote and the pitch goes in a very personalized approach to the client with the agent’s contact information. “We know that 50 percent of the people who open the e-mail will make a booking,” says Freed. Even if the client doesn’t open the e-mail quote for two weeks, when they do, the e-mail updates the quote with new, real-time pricing.
In November, Royal Caribbean will release a new Wave Season kit with new information, tools and training for selling Oasis of the Seas and the line’s 21 other ships. “In addition, during November, we’ll be doing a new First Time Cruiser’s Month,” says Freed. The line will provide travel partners with special offers and promotions.
Consumers without a travel agent may visit www.royalcaribbean.com, put in their zip code and pull up a list of agents. If the consumer clicks on a particular agent profile, the listing shows detailed information such as whether the agent is CLIA certified. “It’s an unbelievable tool that’s free to travel agents, and will get them the business,” says Freed. Agents simply fill out a profile to participate in the site, which gets 1 million visitors per month.
If your clients do sail, they’ll find a welcome-home letter waiting upon their return. It gives them a future onboard offer and refers them back to their travel agent’s phone number for booking.
Technologically, the line gives consumers and agents the opportunity to book shore excursions and specialty restaurants online. “Increasingly, over time, anything you would want to secure in advance with a cruise, we’ll help people with that,” Goldstein says. “We will have more to say about this as 2009 unfolds, but we’ll have a constant stream of innovation.”
Tackling the Economy
What about economic worries in the marketplace? Goldstein believes consumers are resilient and points to consistent revenue over the years, even in tough times. “Yes, we are worried, because everybody is worried [about the economy] but everything you read and see on TV is gloom,” he notes. “If it’s not Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, it’s something else. But we don’t take anything for granted.”
Still, value is inherent in cruising, Goldstein stresses. “People are willing to take vacations, which is very advantageous to us.” Even in challenging times, he says, “we have value attributes that are very compelling.”
On that same front, Freed urges agents “not to freeze” in the face of a tough economy. She says agents at the recent Signature conference told her they simply plan to become more aggressive in developing new business because they know not all their existing customers may wish to travel in the next year. As such, they’ll need to be more proactive in finding new clients. Freed hopes agents will utilize the services and training offered by the new Royal Caribbean BDMs in local markets.
Meanwhile, Oasis of the Seas sails along in creating marketplace buzz. “The first day we opened sales up to our Diamond and Diamond Plus guests, I received many e-mails from people I’ve known over the years,” Goldstein says. “One couple stayed up all night and started calling as soon as they could to get a reservation. Then they called me because they wanted me to know they’d made that reservation. Even in this environment where people have a lot of worries and concerns, the Oasis of the Seas is capable of creating excitement way beyond the norm.”