As cruising soars in popularity — and the number of new ships soars with it — Royal Caribbean is placing a huge bet on the travel agency channel. One big change in its lines for 2019 is a multimillion-dollar investment in the travel advisors who sell its products, said Senior Vice President Vicki Freed in an exclusive interview with Travel Market Report.
Onboard Harmony of the Seas with 600 attendees at the CoNexion conference in the Caribbean this week, Freed took some time to talk with Travel Market Report.
Royal Caribbean is “doubling down on travel distribution,” she said, hiring 16 additional salespeople to focus on travel advisors and two to focus on host agencies, plus internal support people to back them up. Royal Caribbean already has the largest dedicated sales team in the industry, she said, though she declined to share the exact number.
“When I was building our 2019 business plan for [Royal Caribbean International President and CEO] Michael Bayley, I said our product is best sold through the travel agency community,” Freed said. “Our product is a little complicated; there are a lot of categories, and we are not the low-price leader. Selling our brand takes a professional who can guide the consumer and help articulate why Royal Caribbean is the better vacation value.”
Bayley replied, “Okay, so should we invest millions of dollars to grow direct or follow your plan and invest in travel agents?” Freed reported. “And, I said travel agents are the better bet.”
Apparently, Bayley was not kidding when he said on the conference stage that he “always listens to Vicki Freed.” Royal Caribbean’s 2019 budget includes “millions of dollars in investments,” including both salaries for those 18 new employees and “inside support, too, company cars, T&E,” so they can provide better service to travel advisors by each covering smaller geographical areas, Freed said.
“This is not a race that ends; it’s a race that continues, and if travel advisors have a desire to really grow their business, we want to be the one who helps them do it,” she said.