Anthony Pearce meets Ben Bouldin, associate VP and managing director UK & Ireland at Royal Caribbean, who have gone bigger and bolder than anyone else
When we sat around to plan this month’s Cruise Adviser innovation special, the name of one line kept cropping up, and with good reason.
Royal Caribbean International, which operates 25 ships and has six more on order, has time and time again redefined what cruise travel means. Be it robotic barmen, onboard dodgems, climbing walls, the Central Park (and its interior staterooms with a view), or simulated sky-diving and surfing machines, its ever-larger ships have come to represent the new theme-park-at-sea style cruise, where the destination often plays second fiddle to the adventure-packed hardware.
Earlier in the year, the company announced that Symphony of the Seas, the fourth in the record-breaking Oasis-class, will be even bigger than Harmony of the Seas, currently the world’s largest cruise ship. And the rest of its fleet isn’t far behind. In terms of size, Allure and Oasis of the Seas, slightly smaller than Harmony, are followed by the line’s Quantum-class ships – Quantum, Anthem and Ovation of the Seas – giving Royal the entire top five of the world’s largest cruise ships.
You could argue that Royal has done more than almost any other company to shake off the idea of cruise being stuffy. When we speak to Ben Bouldin, associate vice president and managing director UK & Ireland, he admits that the old “newly wed, nearly dead and overfed” line is still wheeled out. “The greatest misconception about cruise is that it’s just for old people,” he tells us. However, for the kid-friendly Royal Caribbean it goes the other way, too. “People think Royal Caribbean is very family-orientated and I wouldn’t say it isn’t, but we have lots of sailing outside of school holidays, where they are very adult focused,” says Bouldin.
The line has also made a name for itself with its innovative awards programme, Club Royal. “We’ve 12,100 members now, having launched three years ago. We invest over £1million a year in agent rewards and we’re absolutely committed to it. We’re always looking of ways to expand and develop it – we’ve got some big developments coming this year.”
Bouldin singles out Samantha Wilkinson, of Delmar World Choice, who was named Club Royal Ambassador at the line’s Awards Ceremony in March. “Samantha was doing a bit of cruise, a bit of other stuff, but once the Club Royal scheme popped up, she started making bookings and started earning on her card.
“Now, because of her passion for Royal and her passion for cruise, she’s actually joined an independent agency with the role of heading up cruise and helping them develop a really strong cruise product. That’s just one example of the impact it’s had.”
Although Anthem of the Seas ran a short ex-UK season a few years ago and the older Independence of the Seas sails from Southampton, talk of a shiny new Royal ship based in the UK – or at least Europe – is often mooted.
“I think, for me, success will bring a new ship to the UK and Europe, and that’s what I’m absolutely focused on,” says Bouldin. “That’s about achieving the right level of performance from the UK market. I obviously want to get hold of new hardware. We’ve got Symphony of the Seas in Barcelona in 2018 and we know we are launching a new ship in 2019, and the location of that is still to be determined. From a UK point of view, I’m very aggressively trying to chase down that opportunity.”