It’s always fun and educational—and sometimes quite rewarding, for prize winners—to listen in to Vicki Freed’s Coffee Talk webinars.
A sort of travel conference in an hour, the webinars were launched by Royal Caribbean senior vice president of Sales, Trade Support and Service as a way to keep in touch with, educate and inspire travel advisors during Covid. And even now that people are back to face-to-face, they have become such an institution that she continues to hold them, albeit just once a month.
I’ve missed a few, so I grabbed a cup of Starbucks and tuned in to the February session, where Freed and her team offered up a view of the industry, some inside scoops on Icon of the Seas, some personal inspiration, and some travel advisor success stories about selling groups.
I’ll start with the news. There’s going to be so much news about Icon of the Seas that every Coffee Talk from now until the ship launches in 2024 will highlight one feature, Freed said. February’s topic was the infinite balcony—a popular feature that’s new to Royal Caribbean, but known to many cruisers from other river and ocean ships
“Instead of opening a door you open the windows and lower the panels,” Freed explained. The passenger opens the room up to the ocean breeze and view but keeps the square footage of the balcony inside the room instead of outside.
The world’s largest cruise ship by tonnage and first Icon-class ship will have a capacity of 5,610 passengers at double occupancy, and a maximum of 7,600 guests—and it already is “nicely booked for 2024,” Freed said.
The majority of the 1,815 cabins are balcony rooms, including an Infinite Grand Suite in Sky Class that features a private dining area and a split compartment bathroom with a sink and toilet in one, and a sink and a bathtub in the other. The Family Infinite Balcony also will feature a split bathroom, as well as a separate alcove with bunk beds for the kids. There also will be Infinite Ocean View Balcony rooms and Infinite Central Park View Balcony rooms.
Wave Season 2023, meanwhile, has been “amazing,” she said, “and our travel partners are producing more than we expected.” As a way of saying thank you, Royal Caribbean’s ‘Wave it to win it’ promotion will enter the name of every travel advisor who sells six cabins into a raffle for any 6- to 8-night sailing.
The new roster of short Caribbean cruises for 2024 and 2025 has just been announced, and for the first time Allure of the Seas will be sailing 3- and 4-day itineraries out of Port Canaveral, starting in October.
Passing It Forward
On a personal level, Freed talked a bit about how much fun she has been having teaching a few classes at a local high school, and suggested travel advisors give it a try. If you do, feel free to mention that Royal Caribbean has a paid internship program for college students during the summer between their junior and senior years.
“There’s something in the travel industry that fits any major: law, finance, accounting, entertainment, on and on,” she said. “And I am super-excited about the future generation. I hope all of you are given the opportunity to go educate them; it’s so rewarding.”
And speaking of mentorship, she noted that while Bob Dickinson was her personal mentor, the hurried pace of the world today seems to dictate that everyone needs to put together a personal “board of directors”—four or five people you admire and want to learn from.
Groups Are Where It’s At
Frank Krupkowski, owner of Easy Dream Vacations, told of his successful first foray into groups as a fundraiser for the Whiskey Belles singing group from Milwaukee. The group promoted the cruise at its performances in a local magazine, through paid ads on Facebook and Instagram, and 70 guests signed up. While onboard, the Belles held two private performances and one open to the public. Freed noted that in addition to 70 happy customers, the advantage of groups like this is that since many people signed up because of their affinity to the Belles, an unusually high number had never cruised before. For travel advisors looking to build their business, “groups are where it’s at,” she said.
Royal Caribbean BDM Gail Goldberg talked about the time she made a presentation to a New Jersey fire house, pointing out the benefits of sailing out of Cape Liberty and saving on airfare. The next day they called to hold 40 balcony cabins; so far, 21 are sold for a March 31, 2024, sailing, and she already is talking to them about Alaska in 2025.
Travis Evans told the tale of the Central State University Alumni, who were looking to raise money through a Cruise for a Cause. RCCL set up coop marketing at the school’s Homecoming Celebration, and together they sold more than 100 rooms on Wonder of the Seas. “Reintroduce yourself to those networks and organizations you are a part of, and take advantage of the unconscious group opportunities you already have at your fingertips,” he suggested.
Faith Sutkus told of the travel advisor who was approached by a member of his Bible study group to arrange his company’s first incentive trip—and ended up with 131 employees plus guests, plus key vendors. Most of the employees had never been on a cruise before, and since incentive groups have the highest retention rate and tend to book balconies or higher, the potential is great for future business. Her tip: make sure you are connecting with your strategic account manager, who can make calls for you or host a meeting planner event to highlight the advantages of hosting a group on a ship.
Randy Raudt, meanwhile, told of Thousand Miles Travel Group who found a Pied Piper to lead his church onto a Valentine’s Day cruise. Affinity groups come in many forms, he noted. One Armenian travel agency started a Mother’s Day performance group, bringing along their own entertainers and lecturers. Last year the group included 341 Armenian and Persian customers; this year it will hit close to 550. “The most important thing when you get a performance group or any kind of affinity group is that before you mention it to them, email our shoreside event group coordinators and make sure you can secure the space you need,” he said. “The worst thing is to promote it and then find there is not enough space for your meetings.”
Raudt also mentioned church groups for whom the Royal Caribbean team helps plan great pre- and post-tours from the Vatican in Rome to a private tour up to Fatima where Father Paul held mass in Lisbon. “Even people who hesitate to travel, when they have the right Pied Piper will end up going,” he said.
Cheryl’s 40-year career in journalism is bookended by roles in the travel industry, including Executive Editor of Business Travel News in the 1990s, and recently, Editor in Chief of Travel Market Report and admin of Cheryl Rosen’s Group for Travel Professionals, a news and support group on Facebook. As an independent contractor since retiring from the 9-to-5 to travel more, she has written regular articles about the life and business of travel agents for Luxury Travel Advisor, Travel Agent, and Insider Travel Report. She also writes and edits for professional publications in the financial services, business, and technology sectors.