It may be a year without the pomp and ceremony of a new ship but don’t expect Royal Caribbean to take a back seat. Newly promoted UK & Ireland Managing Director Ben Bouldin tells Katherine Lawrey this year is as important as any other for the line.
This may be a year without a new ship for Royal Caribbean International but newly promoted associate vice-president and UK & Ireland managing director Ben Bouldin has urged the trade not to lose focus on the brand.
“For the next 10 years we have an incredible pipeline of innovation including the introduction of our new Icon class [powered by liquefied natural gas] so our message to our trade partners is make sure you have the right relationship with Royal now.”
“We pride ourselves on our broad distribution and making our holidays easy for all agents to book – not just the multiples, but independents too, Advantage, The Travel Network Group, Global and the rest.”
“We’re also committed to Club Royal, the best agent loyalty programme in the market.”
He also said a year without a ship was a chance for his own team to take stock and ensure it was prepared for the next decade, as he and Stuart Leven, now vice-president of Europe, Middle East and Africa, transition into their new roles.
“I’m comfortable we don’t have a new ship to launch this year. We’ve launched four ships in the last three years and from 2018 onwards we will have a new ship every year for the next 10 years. That extra capacity will be significant and it’s incredibly demanding to launch new ships. A break in 2017 ensures we have time to get the building blocks in place and ensure we are in great shape to deliver that pipeline.”
Since Bouldin and Leven joined Royal Caribbean International in early 2014 the line’s sales team has been restructured and nearly doubled in size to 18. Resource has been added in marketing, PR, social media and reservations too.
This is the duo’s fourth Wave period, with Bouldin claiming: “We’ve never been so well prepared. Every year we’ve got better [at executing Wave].”
This year’s offers are buy one, get one half price; deluxe drinks packages included (offering a wider range of drinks than a previous select drinks package); £25 deposits to secure cabins; and 50% discount for third and fourth guests.
“That third and fourths offer is the biggest discount we’ve ever applied in the last few years and it makes us a much more attractive proposition for families,” said Bouldin.
A DIFFERENT APPROACH TO TV
The Wave period kicked off with the premiere of Royal’s new TV advert on ITV on Boxing Day, which is being repeated until the first week of February. The TV ad is something of a departure from Royal’s more typical commercials where the ship takes centre stage, with destination instead providing the inspiration, building on Royal’s strapline: “Where Extraordinary Happens.”
“It is a little different from what people expect, and perhaps controversial because we’re very proud of our fleet but we expect more stand-out as a result,” said Bouldin.
“We know that destination is the number one reason why people choose a cruise, so we’re dialling into that in a different way to what we’ve done in the past,” he added. “Everyone can have these extraordinary moments, but they can be very different depending who you are.”
Immediately after Wave, Royal’s full 2018 season will go on sale in March, including Oasis 4. The ship, yet to be named, will be a sister to Harmony of the Seas, and is rumoured to be spending a season in Europe before heading to the US.
“Deployment details for Oasis 4 are yet to be confirmed. We are hoping we will get a shot at seeing her in Southampton when she comes out the shipyard,” Bouldin said.
However, he ruled out the possibility that his established working relationship with Leven could influence capacity decisions in the UK market’s favour. He said he could not afford to be complacent on that score, insisting the UK had to prove itself.
“I am confident in our relationship – we started our journey at the same time and we’ve always been clear in our ambition and goals,” he said. “But Stuart is a different beast in his new role. My challenge is to get the right yield and the right rate of growth from the UK to demonstrate that we are the right location to place some of these ships in the future.”
It’s no secret that the coveted market is new-to-cruise, and observers will be interested to see how that plays out in a year that lacks a headline-grabbing new ship. If the next 10 years are a battle to dominate the travel industry, this is the year that Bouldin puts the finishing touches to his game plan.
“It’s not just about winning the cruise market but the travel market in general. We need to build our penetration of that market and convert some of the many thousands of guests in all-inclusive land resorts.
“We have an incredibly inclusive offer, the best product and a team that’s capable of winning that battle.”