Royal Caribbean tells traditional travel agents: ‘Don’t be afraid of the digital space’

Travel partners who are digitally selling cruises have been able to recover business faster than those who have not yet entered the space successfully.

THERE are not many people selling travel who can claim that the Covid pandemic has been good for their business.

Angie Stephen, vice-president Asia Pacific with the Royal Caribbean Group, can offer 150,000 reasons why the pandemic has held plenty of upside for the cruise company.

More than 150,000 Singaporeans have taken the opportunity to sail short cruises out of Singapore with Royal Caribbean. Two thirds of them are new to cruising. Many of them are much younger than the average age of the pre-Covid cruiser.

“A lot of millennials were checking us out,” said Stephen, who was speaking at WIT Experience in Singapore.

“Our ships
make great places for instagrammable moments. And again, young people want to
use their passports, they love to travel. This was the best thing that they
could get their hands on in the last 12 months.”

Which begs
the question: What happens next? Will those new-to-cruising in Singapore – and in
Hong Kong where Royal Caribbean has just relaunched – jump back onboard when
pandemic restrictions allow?

“We are
doing that research now,” Stephen said. “We cruise all over the world. As we
have learned, people may not want to go to so many destinations, because it’s a
hassle in this current environment.

“I think cruise will bode well, because you only have to fly to Spain, and we’re going to take you to France and Italy. There’s a great opportunity to for us to secure those guests.”

Angie Stephen: Traditional travel agents “need to be less intimated by the digital and social space”.

Royal Caribbean now has 18 of its ships back in operation and expects
the full fleet to be sailing in the first quarter 2022.

“We’ve opened up a new audience in Asia, where all indications are that
when international borders open, those who have sailed in Singapore will be
keen to experience cruising in other parts of the world,” Stephen said.

Helping to secure those guests is the emergence of online retailers selling cruise, a distribution channel which has largely been missing in South-east Asia.

One reason for this, Stephan says, is that Royal Caribbean has its focus
on the cruise experience rather than the price.

‘Online players want their own hook, but our brand sells at parity,”
Stephen says.  “That was one of the
reasons why online retailers weren’t that interested in cruises, but let’s see
what happens when general travel returns and if they want their own hook.”

Players like Klook, Trip.com and KKDay are now working with Royal
Caribbean. “It’s interesting, how, at the beginning of the partnership with
Klook, everything was done manually, so even as an established OTA, they wanted
a proof of concept before they integrated with us.

“A lot of online retailers usually need a price advantage, or distressed
inventory. That’s not the brand experience that we’re wanting to demonstrate.
So, we’ve worked together, and using Klook, as the example, they did plug into
our API, and they literally went from zero to being in our top five
distribution in Singapore.”

Stephen says while the experience with OTAs “has made us look more
seriously at online distribution”, traditional bricks and mortar agents are
still very much part of the distribution mix.

“They just need to be less intimated by the digital and social space. Travel
partners who are digitally selling cruises have been able to recover business
and grow their cruise business faster than others who have not yet gotten into
that game successfully.”

To this end, Royal Caribbean is helping traditional distributors with
API integration and providing them with digital assets, instead of brochures.

“They are open to it. They know they need it, but they find it intimidating.
A key to unlocking this, I believe, will be in the type of people they bring
back – a lot have been in hibernation. If they bring in younger millennials to
shape the future, with service that’s available 24×7 – that would be good.”

Royal Caribbean Group chairman and CEO Richard Fain, in a newly released
video, has also urged travel advisors to start to sell cruises again.

“The time has come,” he said, “to focus on how we come out of the
pandemic, rather than how we should live during it. The time has come to look
forward and do what we have done for decades, sell cruises.”

Fain said a surge of interest has come mainly via the internet rather
than from travel advisors, as people became used to buying things online during
the pandemic, and continue to do so, while many travel advisors cut down on
staff and marketing.

Appealing to travel agents, he added, “It was the personal contact with
travel advisors that built up the knowledge and awareness (of cruising) in the
first place.”

 “We need you and we need your personal touch, and the clients need you to help them understand the complexity of the product.”

Watch full interview here.

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