Photo: Royal Caribbean International
Royal Caribbean will be supporting its newly upgraded travel-agent reservation system, Espresso, with a travel-agent website and training. But early feedback has been positive and the cruise line hopes it will help pull in business from the biggest suppliers in the travel distribution chain, the travel-agency consortia, says Dondra Ritzenthaler.
As senior vice president of sales for Royal Caribbean’s Celebrity brand, Ritzenthaler told TMR that Espresso is just another example of the company’s commitment “to make sure we are easy to do business with and to make travel professionals feel confident in booking our product. We understand that the consortia and the host agencies and the member organizations are very critical to our success, while independent agencies of course also can book with us using Espresso.”
In the earlier version of Espresso, launched last year, agents could book group space at the agency level, she noted, while “our competitors allowed you to take out group space at the headquarters level” for consortia or host agencies.
Until now, “if TRAVELSAVERS, for example, were to take out group space and create marketing programs for its local agencies to send to their customers, those customers would only see the other companies,” she said. “But now whenever TRAVELSAVERS includes us in its marketing program, everyone in the TRAVELSAVERS network will see all the Royal Caribbean brands, including Royal Caribbean, Celebrity and Azamara. So now all three of our brands have the right technology, as well as beautiful ships and amazing salespeople committed to the agency channel.”
Using Espresso, agents can find available staterooms on multiple decks, and search on things like “closest stateroom” or “50 best open staterooms.” Reporting for group business is also more robust; agents can create reports, including invoices and financial statements, and redeem group amenity points online.
For consortia and other groups, all members of each cooperative now can see all bookings for the entire group.
The whole point was to make every feature intuitive and easy to use, Juan Silva, director of eDistribution strategy and development told TMR. "Every feature was based on feedback we received from travel agents, to make them more efficient and profitable.”
Travel agents can go to EspressoCBT.com to access videos and practice sessions, and the company will be holding webinars and working with agents and groups to help them adapt to the new system and its “amazing new features,” Silva said.
And indeed, agents seemed excited to hear about the changes.
“Thank goodness!” said agency owner Helen Prochilo. "Happy to no longer have to call in to find inside cabins near balconies. This is just what we need to be able to work efficiently with a client rather than having to call."
“With 42 different cabin types on Harmony of the Sea and the plethora of rotating offers, it's a constant battle not to have to use a combination of on line portal with phone support to ensure the completeness/best offer to clients”—a challenge even for the most seasoned travel agents,” agreed Phyllis Polaner Samowitz, Virtuoso travel consultant at SmartFlyer. “And I love that Royal supports and encourages webinars and ship inspections on an ongoing basis."
"Espresso will be one of the finest booking engines now that all the consortia info is available to agents," said Elliot Finkelman at Expedia CruiseShipCenters.
“Fix the glitches and we'll be golden,” said Arleyne Espinel, owner of Luxurytravel.Miami. “I hate calling but always feel I need to ensure that they are seeing the same that I see on my end, especially with the payment records and prepaid gratuities sections.”
Ah, said Silva, “when you talk about digital it’s a never-ending journey. We will continue to invest in the platform, to listen to customers, and to improve and change for the better.”
“This was immensely hard to get out the door,” Ritzenthaler said, “but we will continue to innovate and be a leader in the industry.”