Shore excursions have evolved way beyond the coach tour, according to Royal Caribbean’s head of global tour operations Roberta Jacoby
With more than 3,000 shore excursions on offer in 72 countries, deciding what’s going to sell and what’s not is a tricky job. Roberta Jacoby, Royal Caribbean’s managing director of global tour operations, has the task of ‘delivering the destination’, as the cruise line puts it.
The product, she says, is constantly evolving. “People are not satisfied with a bus tour anymore. It’s all about families, or multigenerational groups. We know Royal guests love to compete with each other and even with the crew. We’ve been looking at the trends. People want an authentic, unique, local type of experience. They want adventure and they want to give something back.” More than 100 new tours have been introduced recently, from extreme ziplining in St Thomas to a chance to attend gladiator school in Rome, complete with a certificate at the end. In keeping with the demand for competitive events, a new Mayan Laser Tag tour has been launched in Cozumel, in which whole families compete together, and for a dose of culture with a twist, there are new tours of Rome in an Ape Calessino, the three-wheeled delivery vans used in World War 2, now an iconic (and ironic) mode of transport. In Naples, there’s a chance to learn all about the role the lemon plays in the local culture, tasting lemons, lemon products and sampling limoncello liqueur. In Livorno, meanwhile, guests can visit the Martelli pasta factory and make their own pasta.
There are volunteering excursions, too, and not just in the developing world. In Lisbon, guests can help at the Casa do Gaiato orphanage, having lunch with the children and joining a game of soccer. “They come back with a feeling of enrichment,” says Jacoby.
Planning the excursions, and sourcing new ones, means constant analysis of guest feedback and cultural profiling. “It’s a long process,” says Jacoby. “It doesn’t just happen overnight. It takes months and months. We work with brand marketing first to study the many trends of who exactly our guests are. We go to all of our tour operators all around the world and ask them what might work. Then they come back to us and we vet their ideas. We work with the marketing departments for Celebrity Cruises and Azamara as well to make sure we don’t end up with
Delivering a homogenized product; our guests are all different and we want to stand out. Azamara has been a leader in destination immersion and Celebrity offers tours that we don’t sell on Royal. Of course, on all three brands we have things like the Hermitage in St Petersburg and the Colosseum in Rome because those are things first-timers want.”
There’s also the question of tailoring different tours for different cultures as well as the five language groups that are already offered. “Allure of the Seas homeports in Barcelona so we have a lot of Spanish guests,” says Jacoby. “We also know that UK guests can do Barcelona in a weekend so we offer them something different. And we know that Germans love cycling tours. We’re always trying to ask ourselves, ‘What would YOU want to do?’. We’re constantly re-tooling.”
Of course, the spectre of competition from independent tour operators is always present. “We don’t have our heads in the sand,” says Jacoby. “A lot of people are very savvy now when it comes to buying. But I believe our product is unique; you buy a tour from the brand itself and the experience starts on the ship. You’re guaranteed to be first off the ship and the ship is going to wait for you, whatever happens. The theme we’re also seeing is that if the guide is good, you know the tour is good. A tour guide can make or break a tour, which goes back to the partners we choose – those that can provide not just the best content but the best guides, too.”
Shore excursions for individuals are not commissionable but Jacoby nonetheless insists that agents should become more invested in tours booked by their clients. “Agents are good at selling cruises but what guests do in port can make or break the experience,” she says. “The land part of the holiday is just as important.”
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