With new ships, upgrades and private islands, the line is looking forward to a big year. Harry Kemble reports
“We have got a hugely aggressive plan for this year,” Ben Bouldin, Royal Caribbean International’s associate vice-president and UK managing director, says bullishly.
Royal’s UK office and its HQ in Miami have a seminal year ahead.
This year, Royal will launch its first Quantum Ultra-class vessel Spectrum of the Seas, give Navigator of the Seas a $115 million upgrade and unveil the first island in its ‘Perfect Day’ collection.
Then there is Ovation of the Seas’ arrival in North America (the first time a Quantum-class vessel will have operated in Alaska) and Oasis of the Seas’ return to Europe before its bow-to-stern revamp.
Bouldin clearly does not want to leave anything to chance. His plans are meticulous and extensive.
We speak the day after Royal’s wave period begins in earnest. Historically, the peak booking period began on Boxing Day, but cruise lines are now launching offers before Christmas.
Bouldin says: “We have recently seen cruise lines starting earlier. Campaigns begin about December 18 and run until March 4.”
Royal’s ex-UK and Europe departures for 2020 went on sale on November 20, rather than in March, to meet consumer demand.
Bouldin adds: “Our legacy curve shows that Royal’s peak booking period is around January 7.”
In preparation, 90% of Royal’s wave marketing activity is live in the first week of January.
Part of that marketing budget has been spent on creative advertising, which is now appearing on an “epic” digital display at London’s Waterloo station and St Pancras station.
For Royal’s 2019 turn-of-year campaign, Bouldin opted against TV advertising for the second year in a row and ditched radio. But despite that move, Bouldin says the campaign has gone “larger”.
So, can he see any difference in the wave performance so far?
“So far, so good,” he says. “We had a pretty reasonable couple of weeks when we were off [for Christmas], but now our numbers have started building quite dramatically and encouragingly.”
Brexit, he says, has not had an impact – even though there are fewer than 75 days before the UK is due to leave the EU.
“There are a lot of mixed messages flying around [surrounding the Brexit effect],” Bouldin says.
“Right now, we are on track to deliver everything we set out to.
“Holidays are something everybody wants to take,” says Bouldin, adding that cruising is one of the “most robust” holidays families can take in terms of what is included in the price.
Bouldin is close to confirming several appointments, including naming the successor to former UK & Ireland sales director Amanda Darrington.
Darrington left her role to “pursue personal projects” seven months ago.
Last year, announcing her departure, Bouldin predicted it would take six months to fill the position. He says he had always planned to conduct a thorough search for her replacement and has pored over the credentials of more than 600 candidates from inside and outside the industry.
“It has taken some time, but I was delighted to have four very credible candidates at the end,” Bouldin says. “We would have been happy to take any of them.”
Without revealing the name of the new UK & Ireland sales director, who is expected to start in mid-February, he says the candidate has not worked in the industry before but has a “huge amount” of sales experience and a proven track record in delivery.
Stuart Byron, who took on the role on an interim basis after Darrington left, will return to his role as insights director in April after helping the incoming sales director find their feet.
A new head of key accounts has been recruited by Bouldin to replace Angela Hall, who has moved to New Zealand. Again, Bouldin has decided not to reveal their identity just yet.
Ex-Tui retail manager Lauren Mepham has been recruited as regional sales manager for London and the south. She has replaced Harriet Fallon who has been promoted to key accounts manager for Scotland and the northeast.
Royal will begin welcoming passengers to ‘Perfect Day at CocoCay’ in May.
Asked if the launch of the private island collection has had a positive impact on sales, Bouldin says: “Perfect Day sales in the US are going through the roof.
“Our marketing in the UK has just started. We have seen strong momentum in the Caribbean for the last 12 months, and we think that is because of Perfect Day.
“I am sure it will live up to its billing. Perfect Day gives us a unique destination that no one else can touch.”
Royal is offering 12 agent places on a four-night sailing, which calls at CocoCay, as part of its new Member of the Month competition.
Agents can win one of the available places each month by being nominated for being “extraordinary” through the My Club Royal website by colleagues.
One agent will win a place each month and the chosen 12 will sail on the revamped Navigator of the Seas in November.
A theme of our conversation has been Bouldin’s willingness to look outside the cruise sector to boost Royal Caribbean’s sales.
Earlier this month, Royal announced a partnership with a relatively new professional body, The Association of Professional Sales (APS), to create a training programme for its team.
All Royal Caribbean’s EMEA sales professionals, and those from the UK, will benefit from a new digital training platform. “We are trying to make sure our sales team is equipped to give the best possible value to agents,” Bouldin explains.
With such a pivotal year ahead, it is clear that Bouldin wants to leave no stone unturned.
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