The UK boss of Royal Caribbean International identifies big opportunities ahead. Hollie-Rae Merrick reports
Royal Caribbean International boss Stuart Leven is predicting growth in the UK in 2016, two years after the number of Brits taking a cruise fell almost 5%.
The figures for 2015 are yet to be released but are tipped to show a marginal increase on the 1.64 million total for ocean cruise passengers in 2014. Leven, who has been in his role for two-and-a-half years, believes the UK cruise market will overcome its 2014 blip and return to continued growth.
He attributed this prospect to ships sailing longer seasons out of Southampton and other UK ports.
Leven said there was a “great opportunity in the Med”, with the introduction of new tonnage including Royal’s 5,400-passenger Harmony of the Seas, Regent Seven Seas Cruises’ Seven Seas Explorer, Holland America Line’s Koningsdam and Carnival Cruise Line’s Carnival Vista.
He described 2015 as a “milestone year for Royal Caribbean”. The introduction of Anthem of the Seas resulted in a record summer for the line in the UK, while Royal also restructured its sales team and repositioned the brand last month.
“Last year was about raising the bar, in many ways,” said Leven. “The first demonstration of that was Anthem of the Seas and our record-breaking summer in the UK. But a lot of that success will be down to the second reason – how we changed how we interact with our trade partners. We used a different approach to selling, had a larger sales team and had a great year rewarding agents with Club Royal.
“Our approach to working with the trade is far more structured now and that’s helped ensure our sales team can be as efficient and helpful as possible to our trade partners. We’ve retrained the sales team and have invested a lot more in sales leadership, which has set us up for a great 2016.”
Leven said he believed the new approach had been “very well received by the trade”, reflected by the fact that his sales team was now visiting “more agents across the country than ever before”. The line says it interacts with more than 20,000 individual agents a year.
He also claimed the line was educating more agents who have never booked a cruise – a strategy that will continue in 2016.
“Part of our strategy is to get beyond those who specialise in cruise and start talking to those who are great at selling holidays but who don’t have cruise in their portfolio of holidays,” said Leven.
“That’s one reason why we had to restructure our sales team because you need to have enough people on the road to reach them.
“We can easily map geographical locations throughout the country where we are seeing new-to-cruise bookings coming from. We can then match that with the travel agency portfolio and point our sales team in the right direction.
“I have high hopes for 2016 based on everything we did in 2015.”
While Leven believes the industry will grow this year, he claimed there was still a lack of differentiation between brands. While he thinks progress has been made over the past 18 months, he said it was still a challenge for non-cruisers to understand the difference between lines.
‘Challenger brand’ will race rivals, not fight them
Royal Caribbean International has positioned itself as a “challenger brand” in the UK.
Stuart Leven said the line wasn’t an underdog, and was setting out to race the competition, not fight it.
He said: “We try to be extraordinary in everything we do because that’s within the DNA of our company – from our ships to the ways we work with our agent partners.
“To be quite frank, we have set out to take a challenger‑brand approach in the UK market. We don’t want to fight our competition, we want to race them – and we want to win the race.”
The line has appointed marketing agency Eatbigfish to promote its new brand positioning and ad campaign, based on the strapline ‘Where Extraordinary Happens’.
‘Significant growth’ in fly-cruises in Europe
Royal has enjoyed “significant growth” in the number of Brits taking a fly-cruise in Europe.
Stuart Leven believes the trend will continue this year.
While he wouldn’t give figures, he claimed both ex-UK and fly-cruises had grown in parallel.
Leven said: “More and more holidaymakers from the UK are choosing to fly to Europe to cruise. Barcelona, Rome and Venice are the three most popular destinations.
“We saw a big uplift last year for Europe and early indications for this year is that it is continuing, which has been helped by having Harmony of the Seas sailing out of Barcelona.”
Leven said the line’s growth didn’t always correlate to where its newest ship was based, because “all of the ships in the fleet have a following”.
He claimed itineraries and destination were key factors to customers choosing to cruise with Royal.
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