What’s a Perfect Day at CocoCay and more for the trade? It’s when Royal Caribbean International’s Travel Partner Advisory Board (TPAB) is invited to sail in on the recently revitalized Navigator of the Seas, meet with the line’s sales staffers, share ideas, provide trade feedback in a panel discussion, and, oh yes, then enjoy a beach day and ride thrilling water slides.
On a three-night cruise earlier this month, 12 of 14 members of that advisory board sailed from PortMiami to do just that. During time onboard, “the advisory board was able to speak directly with the Royal Caribbean sales team, providing insight on how to better work with the travel advisors they represent,” said Ross Spalding, president, Crown Cruise Vacations, Princeton, NJ, an advisory board member.
Dialogue entailed everything from agents asking how promotions will be displayed through technology to the trade’s view of promotions or ideas on future cruise itineraries. “They always seem to take our thoughts into account,” Spalding told Travel Agent. “It was a fantastic two-way conversation”
Putting it another way was Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean’s senior vice president of sales, trade support and service: “At the end of the day, we can make all these decisions in the ‘Ivory Tower’ so to speak, but they’re the ones on the front-line – living it and breathing it, so their input is extremely important,”
Sharing Ideas & Feedback
While the advisory board meets in various ways (phone and in person, at times), “this was the first time we actually invited the Travel Partner Advisory Board to join us at our National Training Summit,” which is the line’s mid-year sales team meeting, according to Freed.
Attending from Royal Caribbean were nearly 300 employees. They included staffers from the field sales force (SAMs, or strategic account managers, who call on agents face to face). Also participating were members of the national accounts team, plus inside sales staffers (BDSs, or business development specialists), whose role is supporting the field sales team, serving home-based agents or simply assisting agents by quickly answering questions over the phone.
Freed moderated a two-hour panel discussion with trade partners on stage (see photos above and below). Sales team members comprised the audience, and they were asked to bring questions for the partners.
“That was a great way to learn more about how we could help their team support our agents better and vice versa,” said Drew Daly, another advisory board member who sailed on the cruise.
Serving as general manager of network engagement and performance, CruiseOne, Dream Vacations and Cruises Inc., Daly called the time onboard “a great resource for everyone to have a dialogue on trends in the business and to brainstorm ideas together.”
He felt board members came away with a concept of “togethering” and working together with Royal Caribbean "to move the business forward."
“Also, from a competitive agency perspective everyone is friends with each other and there is always something you learn because each agency has the same obstacles for the most part,” Daly said.
Freed said the board is a diverse group, and “that’s what we want, as we rotate people on and off. We’re constantly getting new people.” She also said it’s important to have different representation – ranging from consortia to small retail locations, large online players, franchise participants, home-based agents, large call centers, host agency models and others.
Before the group boarded Navigator of the Seas, the advisory board also met with the line to discuss marketing changes; to hear from Michael Goldner, Royal Caribbean’s vice president of revenue management; and to talk about nonrefundable deposits.
Most of all, “we asked them for their feedback, what’s working, what’s not working,” said Freed.
So what has the advisory board accomplished in the past year or so? Freed says discussions with partners in phone calls over the past six months “helped shape” the line’s new Booking Onboard program.
In the past, guests who desired a promotional offer on their next cruise had to book that onboard, before leaving the ship. However, some guests couldn’t quite commit. They may have desired to rebook but didn’t know school or work schedules, or perhaps wanted to meet with their agent first.
Freed said Royal Caribbean then made the decision to extend that offer for up to 30 days after the cruise. But upon further phone discussions with trade partners, the line upped that to 60 days post-cruise. It’s a concrete example of the advisory board’s ability to impact policy.
As for Perfect Day at CocoCay, both Spalding and Daly loved their time there. “Thrill waterpark literally transported me to a child state,” quipped Daly. “I had so much fun on the waterslides and then hanging out in the wave pool.” He also liked that shipboard beverage and Internet packages extended to the island.
Daly encourages his agents to tell customers to book Perfect Day at CocoCay excursions and activities in advance on Royal Caribbean’s website: “The cruise line runs promotions at different times with discounts off of the pricing. If someone waits until [they’re on] the cruise they will probably end up paying more.”
From Spalding’s perspective, “the Cabanas at Chill Beach were awesome” for the quietness of the area, the attentive service, exclusive wait and bar staff, plus easy access to snorkeling and kayaking areas.
He also appreciated the dining venue variety; it felt it was though his family was at a beach barbecue, and he said they “never waited in line.” Trying out the largest freshwater pool in the Caribbean, he also equated that pool’s soft flooring to a cushion.
In addition, “we had an amazing time running from water slide to water slide,” said Spalding, who also suggests that cruisers go to those slides in mid-afternoon (rather than morning) for the shortest lines, if any.
Both advisory board members said the new island experience will be a huge selling point in enticing people to book.
The best endorsement, though? After time spent at the Perfect Day at CocoCay, Spalding’s eight-year-old son Justin, a cruise veteran of 20+ cruises, proudly pronounced: “This was the best day of my life.”