Special Report: Royal Caribbean targets record sales as ship launches loom

Line shares optimism with senior agent partners at event in France. Samantha Mayling reports

Agents will be able to capitalise on Royal Caribbean International’s extra capacity – with two ships set to launch – as the cruise line pledged to work closely with them.

The field sales team is back after being in “hibernation” during Covid, while the line’s new sales tool, My Royal Genie, is helping agents upsell.

The launch of Icon of the Seas and Utopia of the Seas next year is boosting Caribbean bookings, according to Stuart Byron, Royal Caribbean International sales director for the UK, Ireland and Spain.

He told agents during a Royal Caribbean webinar: “There is huge demand from the US, so it’s our job to keep up with that and encourage UK audiences to book early to avoid missing out. Nobody wants to be late to the party of the century.

The more demand we see from the UK, the more the industry will focus on catering for this demand

“The more demand we see from UK audiences, the more the industry will invest in and focus on catering to this demand – it’s a virtuous circle.

“We’re keen to make sure we’re building the right plans with all of you to optimise the business that we’re building.”

Byron said “business sentiment” at Royal Caribbean Group was “super-buoyant”, with passenger numbers looking set to reach record levels.

The line is wooing new audiences with marketing featuring freestyle football champion Liv Cooke – who has seven million followers on social media – and clubs such as Fulham, AS Monaco and Inter Miami, where Lionel Messi is playing.

royal caribbean special report
Pictured: Royal Caribbean’s Stuart Byron (centre) with VIP trade partners in France

Caribbean boom

The UK market to the Caribbean is seeing demand “kick back in a big way”, thanks to the popularity of Icon and Utopia, as well as Perfect Day at CocoCay, the line’s private island in the Bahamas.

“Next year, we will end up with 28 ships in the fleet,” said Byron.

“Because Utopia is offering short sailings, it’s almost like launching two Oasis-class ships in capacity. Add Icon and it’s like three-and-a-little-bit Oasis-class ships joining the fleet.

“There is plenty of opportunity to sell into. I want to fill as much of Icon and Utopia as possible because that’s an exciting new opportunity.”

Byron agreed that selling cruises is “complicated” as agents have to match customers to their ideal cruise, explaining nuances about different ships and drinks packages.

Smart sales tool

“We think My Royal Genie is one of the smartest sales tools we’ve ever developed,” he added.

“It’s taking all our global content and condensing it – it will serve up the ideal holiday for that person in front of you.”

Alex Dixon, business solutions director at World Travel Holdings UK, parent of Cruise118, agreed My Royal Genie is “a fabulous idea”, but asked: “How does that fit into a streamlined contact centre where we’re trying to deal with up to 30 cruise lines?”

Michael Wilson, managing director at Bolsover Cruise Club, also flagged a problem that some confirmations from cruise lines don’t always fully reflect what customers actually booked, with features such as onboard credit.

Byron agreed a balance is needed between getting detailed information to agents and helping them to be inspirational.

“Cruise is complicated,” he said. “We don’t want people just doing ‘OK, next, next…’ We’re selling  something pretty special – and it isn’t the cheapest.”

There are “tonnes of examples” of agents upselling with My Royal Genie, according to Byron, because it helps agents and clients understand what they get for their money.

Jacqueline Dobson, Barrhead Travel president, said feedback about the tool had been “fantastic”.

“We try to have a cruise specialist within each branch,” she said. “We’re encouraging staff to use My Royal Genie.”

Capitalising on complexity

Gary Lewis, The Travel Network Group chief executive, agreed dealing with complexity while quickly making bookings is challenging.

But he said complexity is “fantastic” as agents can help clients with add-ons and matching the right cruise to the right person.

Peter Cullen, commercial director at online agency Click&Go, said: “Travel agents like complexity to a point; it’s about getting the balance When you get someone like Messi as a brand ambassador, that’s game-changing, right, so it’s simplified enough for consumers to understand what they’re potentially getting, and simplified enough to sell it quickly.”

When you get someone like Messi as a brand ambassador, that’s game-changing

Dave Mills, chief commercial officer, agreed that it is a “tricky” balance, adding: “[Royal Caribbean] is starting to tap into that digital generation, which is flitting about all over the place.

“The amount of time that you’ve got to have that conversation is ever shorter, so you’ve got to capture people’s imaginations quicker.”

The agents agreed that marketing with influencers can help to attract new clients.

Lisa McAuley, Hays Travel’s strategy director, said: “When you get someone like Messi as a brand ambassador, that’s game-changing.”

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