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Royal Caribbean backs trade partners in face of direct sales growth

Royal Caribbean says its direct business has returned quicker than sales through the trade, but reassured agents they are a “critical part of our distribution model” and promised “lots more support to follow”.

Speaking on a trade showcase for new ship Wonder of the Seas, vice-president EMEA Ben Bouldin said: “We have noticed a number of different behavioural changes in our customers. The first is that they have wanted to book direct with the brand.

“During the pandemic, our website was still open and people were coming to look at our Cruise With Confidence page and our insurance terms pages a lot.

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“People came to our website when the rest of the world was quite dark. They leaned into direct business a little bit more, perhaps because of the feeling of security you get from booking with a major, international brand.

“There’s a degree of confidence and trust that perhaps you can’t get from a smaller business.”

At the same time, Bouldin said many trade partners had to “furlough staff and in some cases shut their doors”.

“The travel trade has felt the impact of the pandemic just as broadly as we have. It’s been very tough. You couldn’t just walk into a retail store. Money stopped coming in and in fact, it just kept going out,” he said.

Bouldin’s boss, outgoing senior vice-president of international Sean Treacy, added: “We’ve seen our direct business come back quicker than our trade business but that’s because you’ve been hit too. But we are excited to see it starting to come back. We have a very strong bond with so many of you. We are very much a growth business and we want you to grow with us.”

Bouldin continued: “I’m proud of the way we have supported agents through the pandemic. We refunded in as timely a fashion as we could; we set up RCL Cares to support agents, and despite the challenges we were going through, we never took our sales teams ‘off the road’.

“We kept everyone we had to help them – and we were also one of the first lines to start spending aggressively from August/September last year to promote the brand. Be assured the Royal Caribbean team is focused on making it a win-win partnership and relationship.”

He added: “Ultimately, direct business comes back more quickly because there’s a website and people answering phones whereas all of our trade partners had to find funds and investment to get their teams back. That’s the biggest challenge for us and for them – resource.”

Bouldin said the travel industry was currently in the eye of the “perfect storm”.

“We’ve got super good demand but we’ve also got loads of service questions to answer and we don’t have enough people to service them,” he said, adding that the industry had “taken a real knock” and needed to work hard to recover its reputation.

“I joined the industry nine years ago and at that time, travel was cool, exciting, you could develop great relationships and people really fell in love with it. I’ve fallen in love with it, but it’s taken a real knock and it now needs to demonstrate again to people that don’t know, how great, strong, solid and stable it is.”

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