Interview: <br>Ben Bouldin <br> Royal Caribbean

Ben Bouldin
Royal Caribbean

Having last night celebrated its second birthday, Royal Caribbean has proved that its agent reward scheme, Club Royal, is a perhaps unrivalled success. Giving agents a minimum of £5 per booking to spend on whatever they like, the secret to its success is its simplicity, Royal says. Add to that money can’t buy trips to Dubai, Paris and Venice – as well as very successful social media campaigns (#GetMeOnHarmony) – and you’re on to a winner.

Following the news that there would be a new Platinum tier added to Club Royal, as well as a partnership with TIS, we sat down with Ben Bouldin, the director of sales at Royal Caribbean to hear more about the club that every agent wants to join.


Cruise Adviser: How successful did you think Club Royal would be when it began?

Ben Bouldin: When we launched the scheme we thought it would be good if we could get 1,500 to 2,000 agents to sign up and engage with it. It was a simple premise, we wanted to give agents what mattered most to them: essentially cash in the form a pre-paid Mastercard. They have the ability to spend that on whatever is important to them, be that coffee, groceries, saving for a holiday – whatever. The only thing they can’t use it for is gambling or petrol.

We don’t treat them like educational trips, they are rewards.

Is it the flexibility of the scheme that has led to its success?

BB: Apart from those two stipulations, agents can use it for whatever they want and within whatever timeframe they choose. We also added a secondary aspect, which is ‘Surprise and Delight’. This was about giving agents access to experiences they would rarely be able to afford otherwise. For example, we didn’t just take agents to Paris and look up at the Eiffel Tower, we took them to Paris first-class on Eurostar in a chartered carriage, had a Citroen 2CV tour and VIP seats at the Moulin Rogue. We stayed at a five-star hotel and the agents had their own room. We don’t treat them like educational trips, they are rewards.


Ben Bouldin
Ben Bouldin

Where else have you taken agents?

BB: We’ve done a number of trips now, most recently we took between 16 and 18 agents to Venice. We stayed at the JW Marriott, which is on its own private island, had use of their speedboat, dinner at Harry’s Bar and went on a Gondola. Everything. We took the agents on an experience that a high level executive wouldn’t have been able to afford. The reaction we get is incredible. Next it will be South Africa and then Hong Kong.


Are there any other reasons behind Club Royal’s success?

BB: The other thing that the programme, and the trips in particular, gets us is that personal dialogue; so we can find out what really works for agents. You only get a certain amount from an agent when they are stuck behind a desk.


How many members are you currently at?

BB: We are now at 10,500 members. The Harmony queue really boosted that. The inaugural was a money can’t buy experience – if we didn’t invite you on that first sailing then you weren’t getting on. So the prize was certainly there. However, we managed to maintain that excitement for six months and the buzz we created was incredible. The investment Harmony of the Seas represents was like nothing the travel industry has ever seen. The fact that we can loop our ship launches into Club Royal is another real perk for travel agents.

It will be a money can’t buy experience.

Your current promotion is a trip to South Africa?

BB: Yes, a trip where agents will be able to swim with sharks, go on safari – it is really quite special. We introduced gamification again here, because we knew that worked with the Harmony queue, as well as pushing social media. Admittedly, the registration time was short, and we will probably make the registration period longer for the next one. However, for those who did register it will be a money can’t buy experience.


How have you managed to maintain the longevity within these initiatives?

BB: My background is in food and beverage, with products where we would have 98% penetration already. Often with those brands single digit growth is a good year, given the scale. In those environments you have to become creative and bold in the campaigns you’re trying to push. We’ve tried to do that through Club Royal.


How many agents do you think Club Royal could hold?

BB: I think that 13,500 is our limit. But a huge amount of agents join the industry every year. We need to make sure that they all know about our scheme as well. We have to make sure it’s relevant to everything we do. We have a field team that are there to meet frontline agents, they give out scratchcards where agents can win cash instantly (if they are a member, if they aren’t then they need to sign up). We also have the ability to boost the earning potential. So while we normally give £5 a booking, some weeks we could be £30 a booking. I can use it tactically and respond to the marketplace. It’s a very simple way of me adding value to agents instantaneously.


And now you’re adding more levels?

BB: While Club Royal is a level playing field between agencies and locations, the tiers are the only difference. Last year we promised every gold card member that we would uplift their earning potential four times per year. If everyone is on £5 then they might earn £10. There were 106 gold card members last year and there are now 178. With platinum, and our partnership with TIS, the rewards are even more lucrative.

There were 106 gold card members last year and there are now 178

Have you had agencies that haven’t jumped on board?

BB: There are some agency partners that don’t like us having the ability to incentivise their staff. I do understand that and we have worked through most of those problems. What I would say is that we are fully funding this ourselves and there is a control mechanism that travel agencies can use. If staff are on a disciplinary, bosses can choose to have accounts suspended for instance.


Has it worked?

BB: It’s difficult to quantify. What I do know is that we’ve hit target for the last two years. However, you could flip that on its head and say that we’ve had a couple of new ships too, has that added to bookings? It’s a combination of things. What I do know is that 53% of our bookings are made by Club Royal members and I envisage that to rise.


What’s the plan for 2017?

BB: There will be no new ships in 2017, but we have more time next year. Oasis Four will go on sale in March or April and we will able to reassess our brand because we won’t be running campaigns around the launch of a new ship.

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