Vicki Freed for years paid her dues in the industry with Carnival, rising to Senior VP of Marketing and Sales before she jumped ship to Royal Caribbean as Senior Vice President of Sales. While many predicted a short reign in her new position, that appears to be far from the truth. She fits in just great and her connection to travel agents has grown stronger in the last year and a half.
LL-Happy New Year
VF– 2009 was a good year to say goodbye to.
LL– How did you spend the Christmas holidays?
VF– I took 35 people- an extended family, on the OASIS.
LL– With all the publicity on the OASIS, RCI even outshone the inaugural Caribbean sailings of both the Carnival Dream, and MSC’s Poesia.
VF– We did get a lot of coverage, but it helps the cruise industry as a whole.
LL– What are your favorite spots on the OASIS. Did you have to wear a backpack with provisions to tour the ship?
VF-I love the Aqua Water Show and HairSpray. I already have reservations in four dining venues for the holidays.
LL– I know you love to shop too.
VF– Yes, I do, and whether you shop at Bloomingdales or Neiman Marcus, there’s always a choice- even on our ships.
LL -Agents have noticed changes in the group dept. More agent friendly.
VF – Yes there have been many changes and they came from the agents and the advisory team. If we don’t listen to what the agents say, we’re not doing our job. Innovation is our middle name and to be creative we have to support our travel partners. Our group department has become much more flexible. You can book space with or without deposits. We’re supporting the agents more now.
LL– Your Choice Air program can be a surprise for some agents. Your rates are sometimes lower than ever before.
VF– Yes, it can be a surprise. Our Choice Air allows the consumer’s needs to be in control – allows the agent to compare rates. Again, something that came from the requests of the travel agents. Agents still need to know more about it. They should just try it, but if they select it, they have to pay for the airline tickets right away.
LL– Agents are complaining about how so many suppliers have gone to e-docs. What feedback have you gotten?
VF– Well we still supply baggage tags- we’re not going to make you print out little slips of paper- we send out the real tags. And our onboard registration is limited to one or two pages, so both agents and passengers are accepting the changes.
LL– If I say 2 numbers to you, do you know what they mean? 18% and 82%.
VF– I know what you’re talking about. The 18% is how many people have ever taken a cruise. Actually, it’s now more like 20%. And the higher number…?
LL– That was the figure from Royal Caribbean last year of the percentage of people who booked with one travel agent and didn’t return to that agent.
VF– Right- well that can be changed. Agents need to call clients and not wait for them to call the agents.
LL– So what’s your forecast for this new decade?
VF– We never take travel agents for granted. We NEED travel agents. I’m an optimist and always look at a glass being half full. It’s going to get better and better. And we’re going to double the WOW with the Allure of the Seas. More visibility at Trade Shows and more training help for agents.
I think there will be more multi-generation travel. And we’ll help educate agents with more fundraising and charity groups.
LL– Rates higher?
VF– If the rates go up, the agents make more as well.
LL– What was your most memorable vacation?
VF– Last year we took the family on a Galapagos expedition. It probably was the most memorable because of the special uniqueness of the destination. There were 11 of us.
LL-Guess you have some connection at Celebrity!
VF-I love Europe and Italy also.
LL– What is on your Bucket List for a future trip.
VF-Antarctica definitely. Even though our ships don’t go there, I will get there.
LL -I have a feeling that at the end of this decade, Vicki will still have the positive attitude, the great appreciation of the role of the travel agent, and the easy accessibility that is not as evident with some other suppliers. And I look forward to her pictures of Antarctica!