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Home is where the heart is

At Royal Caribbean International® home-based agents are extremely important to us. In fact, three years ago, we were the first cruise line to officially recognize the value of our home-based travel partners by providing tools and resources specific to their needs. We do this because home-based agents are a very influential sector of the travel agent community.

Why are home-based agents so vital to our business? Because they love to travel and put their heart and soul into everything they enter into the marketplace, truly changing the environment we work in for the better. Their grass-roots marketing efforts are the best for recruiting first-time cruisers. From soccer games to PTA meetings, social clubs to local commerce and networking events, home-based agents have the uncanny ability to bring non-cruisers into the industry. And non-cruisers are statistically the most difficult target market to hit.

Many home-based agents are experiencing great success utilizing new and innovative ways of promoting like the use of social media, text messaging and email paired with more traditional marketing styles like phone calling, direct mail and events. And our goal as a company is to build upon their spirit and provide the support and attention home-based agents need to further succeed.

Home-based agents make up a huge portion of our business, especially when it comes to affinity groups. Home-based agents are part of their local community and they are greatly involved within it. We are constantly amazed at how successful these small agencies are with large group cruises.

But we see this as only the beginning. This sector of travel agents also benefits greatly from repeat business. They know their clients personally – their children, anniversaries, birthdates and interests specific to them. The relationship between home-based agents and their customers is unique and very profitable. Relationships are the key to success for home-based agents.

Until recently, most suppliers found the home-based market an elusive one. Royal Caribbean saw this as a challenge and embraced it.  We realize that as a home-based agent much of the work must be done yourself and without a large budget. That’s where we really stepped up to the plate for our home-based partners. We’ve created a number of resources to help home-based agents promote their business such as: complimentary collateral, continued industry education, personal support and other helpful tools.

In addition, we have many exclusive tools for our agents including:

  • University of WOW – an online tutorial that educates travel agents on all our Royal Caribbean products from the comfort of their home or office computers, through fun, interactive modules. Agents earn certifications and as their knowledge level increases, so too does their access to helpful tools and incentives.
  • Local Sales Support – every agency registered in our system is assigned a local Business Development Manager (BDM) whose role is to support their Royal Caribbean sales efforts. Each BDM is also supported by a Business Development Specialist (BDS) who is also available to the agent for day to day questions, guidance on available marketing co-op dollars, service issues and to help provide an overall seamless operation.
  • Welcome Home Letter – to insure that our agents retain the repeat business they deserve, we’ve created this important sales lead. Once a guest returns from their Royal Caribbean cruise, they will receive a letter with a $50 voucher to use towards their next vacation. The letter provides your name and contact information. Statistics show that only 1 in 5 guests book again with the same agent and this is one of the ways we work to combat that trend.
  • Travel Agent Locator – this helpful RoyalCaribbean.com feature provides a list of travel partners and their contact information, logo and specialties. To be featured, agencies must be registered in our system and have at least $5,000 in sailed revenue with Royal Caribbean. If an agent has completed our University of WOW training program, they will also be designated on this list as a Royal Caribbean Expert or Expert Plus.
  • CruisingPower.com – is a one-stop shop for information, policies and various marketing materials that can be utilized by travel partners. Much of the collateral is complimentary and includes beautiful full-color brochures, direct mail pieces, customization, personalization and more. It’s also a great resource for current sales and agent incentives. Simply visit CruisingPower.com and check out our eConnect, Personalized eMarketing, My Marketing Center and Promo Calendar pages for more information.
  • Webinars – for agents who don’t have the time or budget to travel to expensive training seminars, we offer webinars. Our webinar series informs and educates agents about a variety of subjects ranging from “Building a Top-Notch Marketing Plan” to “Groups Your Way” and are available to listen to live or through our recorded links when it is more convenient for them. Plus, they’re free of charge – perfect for home-based agents.
  • Virtual Tradeshows – are another great way to introduce home-based agents to new products and trends in the travel industry. These shows run just like a regular tradeshow – with booths, displays and guest interaction – but entirely online. There are even sales managers available at the displays to ask questions and get answers from. Our upcoming show is all about our newest, most innovative ship – Oasis of the Seas. It’s taking place on September 29-30, 2009 at: www.RoyalCaribbeanVirtualExpo.com

This is just a sampling of the many resources available to home-based agents and clearly demonstrates our commitment to this important market segment. Because our industry is always changing, and our sales environment is constantly fluctuating, we are always looking for new ways to help our agent community.

Why is this sector of the travel industry growing so strongly? Because our industry remains steady – even through this turbulent economy. People still want to travel, but they want a quality vacation at a great value, and there is no vacation that offers more of this than a cruise vacation. We are happy to see so many home-based agents join our family and aim to support them fully every way we can.

If your home-based agency has ideas for improving our service or increasing business, I’d love to hear them. Email your suggestions to me at: AskVicki@rccl.com .

Vicki Freed is Royal Caribbean International’s senior vice president of Sales and Trade Support & Services.

With 29 years of service with Carnival Cruise Lines, Vicki recently joined Royal Caribbean. Freed oversees the company’s 345-person sales force, the largest sales team in the cruise industry. She also manages the company’s Trade Support and Services division, which includes Reservations, Group Sales, Customer Service, and Loyalty Programs. Freed reports to Adam Goldstein, president and CEO.  To ask Vicki a question, please email her at AskVicki@rccl.com.

  3 thoughts on “Home is where the heart is

  1. Vicki, always good to see you out and about! I appreciate everything you have done, and continue to do, on behalf of home-based agents like myself.

    I work hard to establish myself as a professional, and sometimes that is difficult owing to the nature of being home-based. One such example is working with a host agency. Because my bookings are made with that host agency, I personally am not listed on the travel agency locator, nor is my status as a University of WOW graduate highlighted. Are there any plans to include home-based agents on that list separately from their hosts?

  2. John Frenaye says:

    Steve–not sure how often she will be checking comments; but this is a great question (and an issue). Why not send her an email?

    John

  3. JoAnn Niemann says:

    STEVE: Great comment! I have emailed Vicki to support your point about profiling home based agents.

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