Speaking at the ABTA 2022 Travel Convention, Royal Caribbean International president and CEO Michael Bayley was bullish about the future of cruise, as Kaye Holland reports.
Bayley told delegates during a session moderated by ITV royal editor Chris Ship: “It’s wonderful to see our ships full of happy customers and crew. Things are going extremely well.
“Our ships are full, the mood is very positive and we are seeing bookings improving since the last of the Covid protocols dropped away.”
Bayley said that Wonder of the Seas, the biggest cruise ship in the world, which set sail on its maiden voyage earlier this year, has been a great marketing tool.
“Wonder of the Seas has been fantastic for us,” shared Bayley. “She is the fifth ship in our Oasis class and the best in the world at delivering phenomenal vacations.
“In Europe, especially, she has really performed at a high level – virtually every single sailing has sold out. It’s been great to see.”
A new icon for Royal Caribbean
The first of Royal Caribbean’s Icon-class vessels, Icon of the Seas, will follow at the end of 2023. Bayley explained: “Icon of the Seas is the continued evolution of cruise as it relates to our business.
“We’ve taken everything we built over the last 50+ years – and everything we know about our customers and what they expect – and created the next generation of cruise ships.”
Bayley continued: “The name kind of says it all. It is an iconic, game-changing product that will revolutionise the cruise industry and, more importantly, attract the new-to-cruise market.”
When asked how the Icon class will differ from the brand’s Oasis class, Bayley said: “The experiences, elements, and areas are completely new from a customer perspective and that’s what we call the wow factor. When customers walk on board Icon of the Seas, they will say ‘wow.’”
The ship also represents a concerted effort by the cruise giant to improve its environmental performance. “Icon of the Seas is the first Royal Caribbean ship to use liquefied natural gas,” said Bayley.
“We will learn from this technology for future ships. This, together with waste management and the elimination of plastics on board our fleet – all of these things we have engaged in [to ensure that cruise travel respects the environment].”
He added: “We also work with destinations to manage the in-flow of tourists and stop over-tourism. With the Bahamas, which is basically on our back doorstep [Royal Caribbean is headquartered in Miami] we have created a private island destination, Coco Cay.
“We spent seven years developing Coco Cay with the Bahamians and it allows us to bring, over a one-year period, anywhere up to two million tourists into a state that’s less than 40 acres – and to do it in an environmentally responsible way that also creates significant economic benefits to the community and country.”
Royal Caribbean ‘positive’ about the future
Concluding the session, the cost-of-living crisis that has hit – certainly in the UK – consumers hard, was highlighted, but Bayley wasn’t overly concerned that people would scrap their cruise plans.
He said: “The crisis of confidence is something I have yet to see. What I have seen is a return to normal booking behaviour and very robust spending behaviour.
“Consumers couldn’t have any experiences during the pandemic and so they switched to upgrading their homes – replacing TVs and fridges, etc – because we were all at home for almost two years.
“But now most people are saying ‘to hell with that, I need to go and have an experience and see the world with my family.’ They are seeking adventures and looking to engage and have a life and spend on experiences.
“What matters really is the customer and demand. Does the customer want to buy your product? Yes. Is there demand in the marketplace? Yes. Are people willing to spend money? Oh yes.
“Overall, the sky looks fairly blue and we feel good about the future.”