Tell the truth; as a travel agent have you ever struggled with booking fly-cruise from regional airports? Well, Royal Caribbean Line (RCL), the holding company of Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises believes it is about to make your life much easier.
Following on from an extensive travel agent trial – which resulted in 2,000 additional bookings across the three brands – the company will roll out its new solution, AirWaves, to all of its agent partners on 23 November. The system allows agents to repackage a fly-cruise – including options for low-cost carriers – from 30 regional airports with access to 2,500 hotels – in just four steps. The company says the solution has been developed to increase both its fly-cruise and new-to-cruise agent business.
We caught up with Amanda Darrington, sales director of Royal Caribbean; Claire Stirrup, sales director of Celebrity Cruises; and Nicola McNeish, head of sales at Celebrity Cruises to find out more about the solution and why it will make agents lives easier.
Tell me more about the AirWaves pilot…
Claire Stirrup: We’ve had extensive testing with more than 350 agent partners, from high street stores to homeworkers. It’s the largest ever collaborative pilot that RCL Cruises has done. AirWaves is a simple method of packaging cruise itineraries and it is all about personalisation for the customer. It’s four steps: search, refine, details and book, with full access to low-cost and published flights from more than 30 UK and Irish airports. We offered 60 hotels before and now we offer 2,500. It’s also fully integrated with Google Maps.
How important have the trade been to the process?
CS: Our trade partners have been with us from the word go. We’ve taken their feedback right from the beginning, rather than building something and showing them and the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive because of that. One agent even said it was life-changing.
Nicola McNeish: The changes we have made with this system in terms of flights is revolutionary for the industry. No one else is working like this.
CS: There is one system. It reduces the time it takes to make a booking and makes the trade partner’s life so much easier. The feedback we get is that it’s quick, simple and easy to use.
Why was AirWaves created in the first place?
Amanda Darrington: It was to understand new-to-cruise agents, those who hadn’t sold cruise before. This application will lead us to talk to a whole new audience through those agents.
If you think that both Royal and Celebrity have ships that often sail out of Southampton, there is a natural pull to the ex-UK ships. AirWaves encourages bookings with flights out of regional airports to a destination where they can pick up one of our ships anywhere in the world. That’s what this tool is about. It’s about getting 40 ships in front of the wider agent community and attracting as much new-to-cruise as possible. It’s a one-stop shop for cruise and will make our three brands viable alternatives to land-based products because they are as easy to book.
We’ll be the principal. We’ll bond them. Nothing can go wrong.
What happens on 23 November?
AD: All 6,500 agent partners that we work with across the three brands will have access to AirWaves.
NM: There will be a comprehensive training scheme that they can go through depending on how agents like to learn, there will be flyers and a chance to give it a go on Cruising for Excellence. However, the system is very intuitive and agents can log on and just have a go themselves.
Will there be further changes to AirWaves?
CS: We are making 30 enhancements following on from feedback we’ve had from agents and we’ll keep speaking to the trade and evolving the system as we go on.
What is RCL’s ambition by launching AirWaves?
AD: The target is the fly-cruise market, and that has proved a success, as will be the agent new-to-cruise market. We haven’t been able to prove the latter yet because the pilot has only been done with people we know. However, what we’re expecting is for people to consider cruise with this system in place because it is so simple to use. It takes away any ambiguity. The content you get on the site, the videos and the way you go through the four steps are as you would book any other package holiday.
We would like every agent to give it a go. It’s up to them whether they use it but we’re saying to the agent community we don’t think you’ll find an easier system for booking a cruise holiday so come and check it out.
Will Espresso be turned off?
CS: We’re not sure yet. We’re giving everyone a choice and they can use whatever they are most comfortable with but if they’re booking a fly-cruise then AirWaves is the only option. You can book a fly-cruise on Espresso but it’s not easy. Why wouldn’t you favour the easier option?
How do you change the perceptions about cruise?
AD: I think it is changing. It’s not until you physically touch and feel the product that you really know what you’re talking about. We’re trying to give agents that confidence. We’re also doing far more immersive training, webinars – live and recorded – to bring alive the ships that we’ve got. A lot of companies that we work with understand that cruise is a growth market and they want a piece of the action. For us, it’s a good time to put an application like this onto the market and it can become a new revenue stream for those new-to-cruise agents.
What is the best thing about AirWaves?
NM: It’s a simple process to book tailor-made holidays.