Cruise suppliers will ramp up trade support in the wake of the Covid-19 crisis due to the importance of agents in communicating key messages around product and health and safety.

Speakers on a webcast during day four of Travel Weekly’s Future of Travel Week said they had used the pause of operations to reassess how they approached trade partners, including responding to shifts in agents’ business models and how to deliver key messages to boost sales.

Ben Bouldin, vice-president EMEA for Royal Caribbean, said the company planned to revamp its Club Royal agent programme ready for the Wave booking period in the new year and was also looking to ensure it continued to reach agents within different channels.

He said: “We have ensured that our sales teams have remained active throughout. For sure, the retail side of things is a bit different today, you’ve only got to go to your local high street to see that some retailers are open, some are not, so we are keeping a close eye on that.

“There’s [also] been lots of people who have thought ‘if there’s ever a chance to try homeworking, this is it’. I think a good chunk of travel agencies have seen that that’s an opportunity for them to remodel how they work, not just in the UK, but in the US with the likes of Inteletravel seeing huge growth.”

He added: “There’s definitely an appetite for more homeworking, and how you service that part of the industry is going to take some thinking through, but the trade will remain absolutely critical to the industry’s return from this.

“Travel agents understand the sector and they understand those standards in terms of the advantaged health and safety protocols the industry has always had, and they will be critical for regaining consumer trust.”

Lucia Rowe, managing director of A-Rosa, said the trade-only line had focused on providing key sales messages to stimulate marketing activity, including growth in the number of bookings to first-time river cruisers with previous experience of ocean cruising.

But she said the operator had also supported partners with small incentives including rewards for those who nominated an agent who gone above the call of duty.

“The most important thing in these not-easy times was not just keeping people informed, but to reinstore confidence in our travel agent partners and our end consumers,” she said.

“But beyond sales, now is the time for support so we rewarded in a little way everybody who nominated an agent. It had nothing to do with existing A-Rosa sales, it was just a thank you to the trade.”

Andy Harmer, director of Clia UK & Ireland, said the association had pivoted to digital communications and virtual events to maintain engagement with agents.

He added: “We all recognise that the trade has gone through a terrible year where they have needed support and needed to keep understanding what the industry is up to but also what the opportunities are that lay ahead of them.”