On a recent three night sailing of the new Quantum of the Seas, I had the opportunity to sit down with Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean International and talk to her about the travel industry, specifically Royal Caribbean.
Travel Research Online (TRO): What is your take on the future of cruising?
Vicki Freed (VF): I think the future for cruising will continue to be a very exciting one; a big growth market, a big opportunity for travel partners to continue to introduce cruising to their clients, and once their clients have cruised, it’s a huge repeat and referral business. So, it’s a win-win all the way around. The fact that 69% of the world is water and cruise ships are moving resorts and hotels, we’re able to really show the world off to so many people in a style and comfort level that’s really a WOW.
TRO: By moving some of the capacity out of the Caribbean, we will hopefully see stabilized pricing and not a lot of those last minute deals. Will there be something in place to reassure the clients who book 18 months in advance that their prices will not drop?
VF: I don’t know if there’s going to be a guarantee, but we are working very, very hard to make sure that pricing is very stable, and the people that book furthest out will have the better pricing. For example, we just launched our Wave promotion on November 17th. That promotion is from November 17th to December 31st, and it is our richest promotion. It’s not to say that we won’t continue with a Wave promotions starting in January, but it will not be as rich as the promotion that is currently on. It will still be an attractive promotion, but it will not undercut what we have in the market place as our pre-Wave. That’s what we’re really trying to do, even with groups. We now have group rates, so that if later on we have to do a promotion, we won’t undercut the group rates. That’s silly. That doesn’t make sense. And it’s not productive for anybody. It doesn’t help the travel professional. It doesn’t help the consumer. People don’t like to feel like they didn’t get a good rate.
TRO: Is there the possibility you still might have to do last minute sales still, depending on how soft a sailing is?
VF: Well if we have to, we’re going to find very creative ways to do it so that it doesn’t disrupt the market. Our first priority would be to our travel partners and giving them the opportunity to sail with us as a familiarization trip. This helps them learn about our product, and it doesn’t disrupt the consumer pricing. We just don’t want to go out there in a big broad way with a much reduced price.
TRO: Since we have inadvertently trained the passengers to wait over the last few years, do you think it’s going to take a while for us to turn that around?
VF: I think it will take a little bit of time, but we’re already demonstrating it. It’s more than just price, it’s accommodations – being able to pick the room category, occupancy, specific room number/location of the stateroom you want to book. A great example are the junior suites and new junior spa suites on Quantum of the Seas (and eventually Anthem of the Seas). The junior suite has a bit more square footage in the room, but the junior spa suite has two bathrooms (one with the sink and toilet, and the other with a shower and separate bathtub). You have to really know your clients and book far enough in advance to get specific accommodations that meet their needs.
Accessible staterooms are another example, as they represent around 2% of a ship’s inventory, and REALLY need to be booked further in advance to guarantee those for clients who truly need them.
TRO: You are a huge proponent of your travel trade partners. Especially for someone who hasn’t really worked with or sold for Royal Caribbean, how should they approach their BDM or approach working with Royal Caribbean?
VF: They should simply call our Inside Sales Department, ask who their BDM is, tell them that they would like to meet them, and we will make sure that it happens. The best way to grow your business with Royal Caribbean is to meet with somebody in your local territory and community; that’s why we have the largest sales force out there, because we really believe that face to face contact is a good first start. It helps us all to understand more about one another, where we are in the game and in the race. Maybe an agent is a beginner and has no product knowledge? We can guide them on product knowledge. Or maybe they are experienced in travel and just want to grow their business? The BDM is the first place to go.
TRO: Unlike many other suppliers, your BDMs will work with any level of agency, whether or not they’re new to Royal Caribbean or they have a million dollars in annual sales revenue. Do you recommend not only meeting the BDM, but also really working with them to set up a marketing plan to their business, specifically with Royal Caribbean?
VF: Absolutely! Sometimes developing a business plan can be a little scary for some people who have never done that before, so I don’t want it to be the roadblock that determines whether or not they meet with their BDM. So, sometimes just meeting with your BDM for coffee somewhere is a good start. Some of these agents that are low producers are new in the business and tend to be home based, so we’ll meet at a Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts or somewhere to just get to know one another, find out what their goals are, find out what they did in the past, and what kind of business they were involved in in the past. We can help them with some ideas and guide them on how to really start growing their business.
TRO: I know there’s a lot on Cruising Power, but you have the Loyal to You Always website, as well. That doesn’t really mimic everything found in Cruising Power, does it?
VF: That is correct. If you want my “Sales’ Tip of the Day”, you have to opt in on the Loyal to You Always site. Vicki’s Tips are a sound bite, a marketing nugget.
TRO: Everyone wants me to ask about NCCF’s….
VF: We are increasing pricing through this stabilization process, and as we increase pricing, by default, NCFs get lower (as a percentage of the overall fare paid by passengers). Regarding NCCFs, I don’t think we’re getting rid of them. If they really irritate travel agents, then my suggestion is to sell more cruise, and I will find a way to give you marketing dollars. I will find a way to give you more overall commission, and we’ll work with you in many other ways. So, if that’s an irritant to you, we’ll find ways to help you make more money. I have travel agents that may be on 10% or 11% commission, but they are really going to run this race fast now. They may say to me “Vicki I need more commission NOW before I produce, but I’m going to show you that, after a year, I will have gotten to the goals’ numbers.” I’m happy to put the cart before the horse. I’m willing to take a chance with travel professionals, and if they have a good plan laid out and they need more commission because they are doing something different and creative that’s going to propel their business, I’m going to work with them. We are not a company nor a brand that is black and white; we see many shades of grey, maybe not 50 shades of grey, but we never want to be black and white. I want to hear it from the travel agents’ perspective what it is that they need. I want to help travel agents achieve their goals, and I have to be flexible in order to make that happen.
Your BDM is your business partner. I always tell my BDMs never worry about your own goals. If you help your travel professionals reach their goals, then you’re hitting yours. Never focus on yours, help focus on their goals.
TRO: Do you have any sage advice for travel professionals about targeting millennials, succeeding in the industry, etc.?
VF: Don’t over think this business; it’s not that complicated. Relax. Breath. If you want to grow your business, don’t start thinking ‘I need to do a full ship charter’. Start with small steps, which will get you to bigger steps. Don’t over think it. We can help you.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel (www.shipsntripstravel.com) located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations (www.kickbuttvaations.com) she focuses on travel for 18 to 23 year olds. Susan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at (888) 221-1209.