Royal Caribbean Amends Group Policy

Agent comments prompt several changes in deposit, cancellation rules

By: Theresa Norton Masek

Lisa Bauer is blunt in summarizing Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s history with agents and group travel.

“We weren’t easy to do business with,” said Bauer, senior vice president of North American sales for both Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. “Overall, our group policies weren’t competitive. Everyone made exceptions and that led to service failures.”

After a series of focus groups with travel agents in which RCCL executives said they “really listened to the voice of the customer” it became clear what needed to change.

“What we wanted to do was come up with new policies and procedures that were competitive, consistent, flexible and really made us easy to do business with,” Bauer said.

Briefly, the main changes to the groups policy are:

" Initial deposits are reduced by 50 percent, to $25 per cabin for itineraries including as many as eight nights; and $50 for nine nights and longer.

" The deadline for the full deposit is now four months in advance of departure. It had been four, five or six months, depending on sailing length.

" Group space can be increased if 80 percent of the original allotment is sold and additional cabins are available. Those cabins will be sold at prevailing rates.

" Name changes will no longer represent a cancellation and may be made to all but one of the original names, with some limitations.

" Transfers from FIT to existing groups may be made for bookings with full names and full deposits, with restrictions.

" Rates and inventory will be protected following a cancellation if a request is made within 48 hours and inventory is available.

“Before, the automation didn’t give us a lot of room to be flexible, depending on how the sailing is doing,” Bauer said. “Before, the final payment was due on a certain day and if the payment was not applied, the system would cancel it.

“Now, if a sailing is not doing well, we’ll make the phone call to the agent and say, ‘This sailing still has some room and the full deposit is due, so why don’t you keep selling and we’ll extend the deadline for you.’ It’s more relationship-driven.”

RCCL also promised introductory calls to new agents, so that its group policies are understood. “We really believe by making sure we clearly communicate upfront, that we’ll establish a road map for success,” Bauer said.

“We think we’ve improved communication, we think we’ve simplified full-deposit due dates, we’ll show a lot more flexibility depending on how sales are doing. We’ve completely streamlined, which will empower our field sales people.”