With a big technology announcement scheduled for next week, Royal Caribbean took the opportunity of the DreamVacations, CruiseOne and CruisesInc. annual conference onboard Harmony of the Seas to hint at what might be in the works, summed up the cruise line’s successes in 2017, and took a peek into 2018.
As far as technology, it sounds like facial recognition and even genies are on the agenda. In an impromptu press conference with the trade press, Royal Caribbean President & CEO Michael Bayley said customers want “frictionless arrival, using their phones or facial recognition. We are seeing a massive transformation in the traditional retail space and we obviously need to be relevant and part of that change.”
Customers want digital engagement and butlers
Bayley said that technology trends in general are headed “toward digital engagement. We have a big investment on the way and we think it will be highly relevant.” Consumers on vacation “want to come and relax, and we see a lot of interest in butlers. I watch Downton Abbey and there’s this image of a butler, but we’re trying to have fun with the idea, to have a genie who’s a little quirky and can make things happen.”
In the new-to-cruise space, in particular, Royal Caribbean has “shifted a lot toward digital,” Bayley said, and “certainly when customers interact it’s good, and altogether [the technology] will help us reach that segment.”
Bayley said the giant Harmony of the Seas and Symphony of the Seas “were a game changer” and continue to generate amazing customer feedback. Royal Caribbean has been tracking the Net Promoter Scores of the two ships, referring to a rating system many big consumer companies like Disney and Proctor and Gamble use to measure customer satisfaction. While declining to cite the exact numbers, he said the NPS scores of Harmony and Symphony “beautifully position us against world-class companies across all spaces,” not just cruise or even travel.
Commitment to travel agent partners remains strong
As far as his commitment to travel agents, Bayley said Royal Caribbean and its travel agency channel members “have always been open, long-term partners.” The cruise product does not lend itself well to normal consumer advertising; "it’s difficult to explain in 30 seconds” to potential customers, and especially to highly sought-after, new-to-cruise customers.
In his prepared presentation, meanwhile, Bayley said 2017 was “one of the best years in memory, and then came Harvey, Irma and Maria.” But while September was “a tough month, we really are in a good position; things are back on track and we're feeling good about this year and about 2018.”
The new Symphony of the Seas “is getting [huger] per diems than Harmony; it’s doing great on the revenue side.” The newly modernized Adventure of the Seas will be coming to the Northeast; with the help of travel agents it, too, will be a success. “We appreciate your support” in selling it, Bayley said. As with any new ship, “the first season needs the most support because people don’t know about it.”
And thanks to Royal Caribbean’s $100-million investment, Mariner of the Seas “will be a game-changer in the short cruise market,” he predicted. “I’m very excited, and I can’t tell you yet what else we’ll be doing attached to Mariner and the idea of boosting up the short cruise experience.”
On non-refundable deposits
Asked about Royal Caribbean’s recent push of non-refundable deposits, Bayley said he has seen little pushback from customers or from travel agents. “You work hard to get these bookings and push them across the finish line — that’s a lot of work,” he said. “This is a little nudge to get them to commit. It gives clients peace of mind and makes the booking more sticky, and we have far exceeded the takers we expected on that. The more we can secure earlier, the better for all of us. Once the booking is secure, you can focus on selling the remaining inventory. We feel like we are on the right track.”