Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean senior vice president of sales, trade support and services, recently said that the company is intensifying its commitment to travel agents.
“Our Agent Support Action Program (ASAP)Plus program shows true partnership with the agent community,” she stated.
The present phase ASAP was designed by Royal Caribbean, Azamara and Celebrity to help agents offset today’s business challenges. Under ASAP Plus, agents can qualify to maintain their 2009 commission level in 2010, even if they have not achieved the required revenue levels. To qualify for the ASAP Plus commission benefit, agents only need to make one new 2009 booking on Royal Caribbean International and one new 2009 booking on Celebrity Cruises or Azamara Cruises.
“Revenue goals were set in the latter part of 2008, but 2009 became an uncertain year,” explained Freed. “We’re showing our agents how they can just sell a little more and keep their current levels of production.”
Freed also offers advice on areas that are the strongest sellers at this time.
“I’ve been making sales calls with business development managers, and agents are telling me what is working in this difficult market,” she said. “The first and most important is family and multigenerational cruising.”
As an example, Freed cites the success of one agent who urged clients to give experiences instead of things at holiday times, maintaining that the gift of memory lasts longer than material presents.
“Our brand absolutely sings to that audience,” said Freed. “It works for all ages, not just teens with the rock-climbing walls and surfing, but all the wonderful features for every taste. And that’s expanding: On Oasis, there is so much for guests of all kinds, including the new nursery for the very young.”
For families, the company also has instituted the lunch-box program, allowing kids to hang out with their peers. It has also introduced the In My Time Family Dining program through which children join their parents in the dining room, but their courses are brought immediately, and after about half an hour Adventure Ocean staff members comes and escort them to evening activities, leaving parents to enjoy a leisurely dinner.
In addition to families traveling together, Freed has found an increase in other areas of the group market, including affinity groups and groups formed around pied pipers — like a local band with a strong following or a radio personality.
“These people have a stickiness that others don’t,” she said.
Some agents tend to ignore corporate and incentive travel, but that, too, has taken new forms. The line provides Royal Incentive Rewards, incentive cruise certificates that companies can use to reward individual performance, allowing employees to travel as individuals when they choose. A broad range of certificate levels are available, offering a choice of ships, departure ports around the world, itineraries of up to 12 nights and accommodations including inside, outside and balcony staterooms. Recipients have the ability to upgrade or transfer their certificates.
Charity cruising is another area where agents are capitalizing. Charities are finding that donations are falling in these difficult times, and causes, from private schools to breast cancer, command a following in cruising, in which the client has a vacation and part of the cost is donated to the charity. Royal Caribbean has a brochure called Cruises for Charity, which describes how agents can take advantage of specially designated cruises of two to 10 nights and benefit charities from animal rights to medical research. Royal’s business development managers will work with agents to find, attract and work with nonprofit organizations of any size through customized, promotional material, innovative marketing ideas and more.
In addition, Freed said honeymoon and anniversary travel remains high, and there are still weddings onboard, particularly since the line can demonstrate that the costs are less for a memorable ceremony at sea, rather than on land.