Stuart Leven, managing director UK & Ireland at Royal Caribbean International, spoke to Cruise Adviser during the inaugural sailing of Anthem of the Seas, the cruise line’s newest ship.
What does the launch of Anthem of the Seas mean for the UK market?
I think the launch shows the importance of the UK market in that [Royal Caribbean International] brought the ship straight out of the shipyard to do a full summer season. The second point I’d like to make is that the single biggest challenge facing the market in the UK is fact that you’ve got 1.7 million cruisers but the number hasn’t been growing. When you bring ships like this, with all their great facilities and the holiday experiences people can have on board, it really allows you to take it to a new generation of cruisers.
Is that part of the appeal of Royal Caribbean, with its tech-heavy Smartships?
The average age of cruiser is younger across the whole our fleet than the average age of cruisers. We’re generally more family-focused; it doesn’t matter which ship you’re on. It’s a fun brand: you can see that in that we were the first to put a climbing wall on [a ship], the first to put an ice rink on, self-levelling pool tables. And then we just take that to the next level: we put on sky-diving machines and the wonderful NorthStar – and the two very efficient bar tenders!
What’s your favourite feature?
It’s probably SeaPlex. Most ships will have sports areas or a kids’ area, but they will have them outdoors. We built SeaPlex – you could look it as a sports hall or an entertainment venue – which is one space where you can play table football, X-Box, dodgems, go to circus trapeze school, roller disco, basketball, tennis, football, you name it! And it’s all indoors.
It’s very unusual for a cruise line to give a space like that indoors. And it’s important for ex-UK cruising, because the weather in the summer, when you’re going from here [Southampton] is not always guaranteed. The fact we’ve got the Solarium with the covered pool area, where the roof can come off, with the heated pool, and the SeaPlex area means from 50 minutes after you get on the ship, you’re just not going to see the kids! Because there are so many places they can go whether it’s raining outside or not.
In terms of innovation and technology where do you go from here?
We have lots of ideas – but we’re not telling any one what they are! Suffice to say, since the late ’80s we’ve been at the front [of cruise ship innovation], and will continue to be. And as others copy what we do, we’ll just come up with the next [idea].
What is Royal Caribbean’s USP?
The fun. We do technology, but technology is an enabler. This weekend, I had friends on, a family of four, 11-year-old boy, nine-year-old girl, and they sky dived, they all went up the NorthStar together. They all went on the dodgems and to the show in the evening. I was speaking to the kids on the way out, and they had the time of their lives. And because the kids had a great time, the adults had a great time as well. If you look at the indoor and outdoor space, where kids and adults can have so much fun, I think that’s our USP. No one invests in the way Royal has done so consistently.
Is Royal Caribbean pro travel agent?
We are. I don’t think there’s any other cruise line in the UK that has a loyalty scheme like Club Royal. I think the interesting thing is that we give cash rewards and a debit card you can spend then and there when you get the booking. We pay the tax for you, which is critically important, so there’s no tax implication. But not only that, we won’t give you the card until you’ve actually completed your education and you’ve become an Admiral with the Cruising For Excellence programme. And that shows our commitment, we not just trying to buy your booking: we want you to be educated in such ways so you do a great job for us and then we will reward you.
Is it important to get agents on board to experience the ships firsthand?
I think there is nothing more important than getting agents on board. We’ve just come back from a two-night cruise where we had over a thousand travel agents on board, including a clubbing night with Lauren Pope in the SeaPlex – which finished at half four in the morning!
How do you engage with front-line agents who haven’t sold cruises before?
We just doubled the size of our regional sales team from four to eight regional sales managers. They will call on 7,000 travels and more than half of these agents will have never sold cruises before. We have the tools, we have the training and, if we have someone looking to get interested, we also potentially offer marketing support for the agent to go in and help them take that first step on the ladder. We’re very supportive of them, because eight out of ten of our bookings come through the travel trade. And cruise is complex. It’s not when you know it – but it’s about educating them. Having travel agents who can talk [customers through it] and who understand cruising – that’s how you crack it. That’s how you go from 1.7m cruisers to above 2m cruisers.
Cruise Adviser’s Family guide is published in May