I’m always suspicious when a new policy is rolled out by a cruise line, and it seems to just fly under the radar. Royal Caribbean recently rolled out new group policies to coincide with the new 2019-20 itineraries that are coming out. The deployment information is getting a lot of coverage and fanfare. But the new group policy, not so much, which has me concerned. Is this because they expect their travel agent partners aren’t going to like it when they finally learn about it?
Past group policy changes have been promoted eagerly to travel agents, pointing out all of the benefits of the new policy (new recall schedules, better amenities, etc.). But this time, no such fanfare. Personally, I’m conflicted about the new policy, so let’s review them here.
The biggest change is in the group amenities. Currently if you block group space, your group will be given a certain amount of points (typically ranging from 0 to 8 points) which can then be used to pick amenities for the group. For example, four points can garner the group a $50 per room onboard credit (OBC), or a $50 per room fund-raising donation, or you can use it to reduce your tour conductor (TC) credit ratio. And none of this is contingent on the group size, with the understanding that 8 rooms minimum is required for a group (although they will protect consumer-facing amenities like OBC down to one cabin).
With the new itineraries starting in May 2019, that all changes. The now award amenities based on if you do a deposit group (maximum of 50 rooms) or no-deposit group (maximum of 16 rooms). If you block a small “no deposit” group of 8-16 staterooms (meaning no bulk deposit is due within 30 days), you have no amenity points. The group gets a $50 per room OBC but only on rooms that are booked and deposited into the group at least 6 months before departure. Any rooms booked into the group less than 6 months out get no OBC for those specific rooms. You can not change the OBC to a fund-raiser or use it to lower TC ratios. However, you can buy amenity points (increasing your group cruise fare) in the event that you want to add anything besides the $50 OBC to a small no deposit group.
Only deposit groups (requiring a bulk deposit within 30 days) will earn at least four amenity points, plus receive the $50 per room onboard credit if booked and named at least 6 months prior to departure. You can also buy additional amenity points for these groups if you choose to do so.
With either type of group, there is a catch with that $50 onboard credit. Only rooms booked with the standard group cruise fare will be eligible to earn that OBC. FIT to group transferred bookings are NOT eligible for the OBC. They are only eligible for GAP point amenities associated with the group. The group OBC is also not combinable with discounted fares, like resident rates, senior or military rates.
Now, here is where I’m conflicted. Personally I don’t like the changes, but I can see a benefit to them. Smaller agencies and home-based agents continually complain about not being able to compete with larger agencies. These large agencies go in and block group space on just about every sailing of every ship as early as they can. They get the lowest cruise fares and maximum amenity points, and promote them to death. As time goes by, FIT prices increase making their group prices more attractive. Throw in 8 amenity points worth of “goodies” and they have a significant advantage. This helps level that playing field. Anyone can go in and block 16 staterooms, and get the $50 per room OBC for rooms booked more than 6 months before departure. If an agency wants to shell out money upfront to purchase amenity points (recovering it through increased cruise fares later), they can do that. But that’s a lot of money they’d be tying up.
The same with them blocking deposit groups. This will reduce the amount of larger groups (17+ rooms) being blocked for strictly promotional purposes. Fewer agencies will pony up the required bulk deposit until it is for a true affinity group (in which case, most times you’ll have your pied piper making that financial commitment).
For the cruise line, this will probably reduce the amount of staterooms being dumped back into inventory as groups hit their recall dates. That should help stabilize cruise fares and prevent last minute reduced cruise fares after final payment.
However, for travel agents it’s murky. If you want to do a fundraising cruise, you either have to buy amenity points (and increase the cruise fare) or do a 17+ room deposit group and pay a bulk deposit. This will definitely require some re-thinking of how you will deal with your group leaders.
I’m not sure Royal Caribbean is really all that convinced of the travel agent benefits of this new policy. Otherwise, where is the fanfare? Where are the endless emails touting this new policy? You can find it on Loyal To You Always but nowhere else. Not one single email from BDMs or anyone else at Royal Caribbean. It may have been discussed briefly in the deployment webinar (which I missed due to being without an internet connection), but it’s not being actively discussed or promoted, anywhere.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.