Royal Caribbean Group is stepping up in support of the travel advisor community with RCL Cares, a new program created to assist thousands of travel professionals in the U.S. navigate the red tape surrounding recovery relief.
When the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed, Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service of Royal Caribbean International, said the Royal team was so happy travel advisors and independent contractors were included in the bill, “we decided we wanted to step in and help.”
“Without our travel partners we are not in business, and it was in our DNA to make a difference for our travel advisors,” Freed said during a roundtable call on Monday. “We’re not financial advisors but we felt we had the resources help advisors to get relief. They need the help right now, and we want to be the travel corporation that steps in and really leads not in words but in actions.”
The bill passed on Friday, March 27, and that following Monday, the sales teams at Azamara, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, and Silversea began training to learn the ins and outs of the 800-page legislation as it pertained to advisors.
From there, if an advisor needs assistance – especially an independent contractor who might not have the resources of a consortia – can log onto CruisingPower.com to connect one-on-one with a sales rep. The platform also has highlights of the CARES Act, FAQs, Small Business Association resources and tips.
“Our sales teams are the familiar face that can help a travel advisor start on what could be a scary proposition, navigating this government program,” Carol Cabezas, vice president and chief operating officer of Azamara.
Cabezas said even though it’s still early days, they’ve already had more than 3,000 people reach out, with over 200 direct calls in the short time that it has been available. A third of the calls have been on an individual bases, Cabezas said, and around 20% are agency owners trying to understand how to help their business and their team.
“We’re seeing overwhelming positive feedback. People are getting the answers they need and we’re seeing our teams rise to the occasion as they always do,” Cabezas added.
Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior vice president of sales and trade support and service for Celebrity Cruises, said so far they’ve seen basic questions, like “where am I supposed to go?” and “which part of the CARES Act is relevant to me?”
“Right now they’re feeling overwhelmed – and that’s exactly why we wanted to do this.”
Freed, too, has seen an interest from ICs in knowing how the money works, as some of its loans some of its grants, and the extended unemployment benefits.
If someone additional help beyond the sales force, the “Escalation Desk,” coming online Tuesday or Wednesday, is the next level of support – a combination of international national account reps, with a higher level of training, and experts RCCL is partnering with.
While many larger retail travel agencies and consortia are providing similar resources for their members, Freed said this is just another tool for travel advisors to utilize.
“I think this bill passed so quickly and there’s so much information that everyone is trying to navigate. ASTA and the consortia have done a great job, so we’re just one more resource for agents. We just want to be one other place they can go if they need.”
Looking to the future, all of the executives were confident there will be a strong bounce back to cruising.
“RCCL is looking forward, and we’re doing everything we can that the minute business is back – and we know there will be pent up demand – they’re booking with our four brands,” Ritzenthaler said.
As business evolves given these kind of disruptions, Cabezas believes there may be increased regulations on ships’ cleanliness policies to reassure travelers that they’re taking care of their health and safety.
For right now, Freed said “the best approach we can be doing is connecting with our travel advisors, whether it’s to educate them or talk about the future. People remember the people that were there for them.”