Many travel agents know Michael Bayley, the new president and CEO of Royal Caribbean International, from his service as the former president and CEO of Celebrity Cruises.
But did you know that as a 22-year-old he worked on the Nordic Prince, one of the line’s former ships, as an assistant purser at the front desk. He’s actually worked on multiple Royal Caribbean ships over the past three decades. He's also served in many management and leadership roles for Royal Caribbean prior to his Celebrity service.
Bayley talked one-on-one with Travel Agent Central late last week. He described taking the leadership helm of Royal Caribbean as “very much like coming home.” Walking aboard the revitalized Freedom of the Seas at Port Canaveral, FL, he said “it took me a few hours to adjust myself, but I was soon back to the Royal ‘mojo’ – this wonderful energy that Royal Caribbean has as a brand.”
Bayley says the team has learned a lot from last year's Quantum of the Seas’ launch. “Royal Caribbean has always pushed the envelope, being a leader in the industry,” he says, noting that Quantum has created a new paradigm, one that’s helping reshape the cruise industry in terms of the scope and all the things offered.
|Michael Bayley, president and CEO, Royal Caribbean International|
“Many elements of Quantum were designed specifically for those new to cruising,” he says, citing the industry’s emphasis on the need to get more new cruise guests onboard. New features included super fast broadband / Internet services and Dynamic Dining. “All those elements are really geared to new cruisers," Bayley said.
But he also said that while Dynamic Dining is really popular, some traditional guests were quite vocal about missing the traditional dining experience. So on Anthem of the Seas, launching this year, guests can choose a new Classic choice as part of Dynamic Dining.
Guests who pick Classic will be assigned an early or late seating and a table with the same seat mates and wait staff each night. Then those guests and their waiters will rotate through the four dining experiences on different nights.
While the venues will change, the dinner partners and wait staff won’t. “It’s a good enhancement for our traditionalist, loyal customers, who are the core – the backbone of our brand,” Bayley says. “They’re going to be pleased.”
During the last few weeks, Bayley has publicly discussed the dilemma of travel agents selling third-party shore excursions. He talked with travel agents about the issue onboard the Freedom of the Seas. He says the topic clearly needs more discussion.
“We know that many of our travel partners sell those products,” he acknowledged, “but it’s one thing to sell a third party product, another thing to understand the consequences all around.” He said that while it sounds good to retailers to sell these, “there are and will always be risks associated with that direction.”
He said some third party operators lack the experience of the line, and “they certainly don’t have the scale and resources that we do.” Royal Caribbean also adheres to CLIA standards, and that the ship won’t leave without guests on a line-sponsored tour. He also noted the liability that some agents could face in an accident scenario.
Moving forward, he said cruise lines will be thinking more about how its partners engage in selling the product. Lines have lost onboard revenue as they’ve bundled certain elements, say beverage packages, into value-added promotions as part of the cruise fare. “We’re working well with travel partners, but we’re still trying to find our way [with the shore excursion issue],” he says.
A few weeks ago, Royal Caribbean introduced its Espresso global reservations system for agent training. The new global reservations system -- reducing booking steps from seven to five -- goes live in March. Bayley said the line wanted a soft launch, and the new reservations system has been in place for a couple of months for several partners.
“We’re heavily engaged with them, monitoring feedback and making adjustments,” Bayley said, noting he feels pretty good about the launch overall. It should help travel partners because it’s simpler and more intuitive. “But like everything, time will tell,” he says. “So far, the feedback has been very positive, we’re feeling it’s another step forward.”
Bayley said the line is a huge advocate of travel partners and has many long-term trade relationships. So he said the line will do everything it can to simplify and make the booking process easier for agents.