Royal Caribbean’s Angie Stephen: We addressed environmental concerns way before it became a popular headline


Speaking to us at RCL’s annual CNY gala dinner for trade partners, the brand’s Managing Director, Asia Pacific, talks sustainability concerns, how agents can stay relevant, and plans for 2020.

Royal Caribbean has recently signed a five-year partnership with Singapore Tourism  Bureau and Changi Airport to grow fly-cruising in Singapore. How has the partnership developed so far, and what segments of the overseas market are we seeing growth in?

Angie: It’s a continuation of an already existing, incredible partnership. We really want to grow cruise tourism as cruising is a great way to bring tourists into Singapore.

We are focusing our growth in markets like China, Australia, India, Indonesia and Malaysia. The multi-million dollar investment will be used for marketing and training. And over the next five years, we expect to increase tourism dollars by close to half a million, with 600,000 incremental tourists.

Has there been an increase in fly-cruise visits from Australians?

Yes, Australia is in pretty close proximity in terms of flights.  Singapore is one of the most popular cruise destinations for Australians, and we continue to see steady growth from that region.

Is Royal Caribbean actively marketing Singapore as a cruise destination, because of the capacity issues in Sydney?

We love Australian cruisers, so we want them to sail with us everywhere. We’re not letting the capacity issues be a challenge to us. In fact, we’re increasing capacity in Sydney. We’re adding a fourth Royal Caribbean ship and a second Celebrity ship.

We also have Azamara there and Brisbane’s new international cruise terminal. That’s an incredible source market as well.

Last year’s marketing strategy was focused on ‘adventure’ and ‘tech’, especially for ships like Quantum and Spectrum. Will we see a change this year?

Adventure, technology and innovation is the root of who we are as a brand. That’s our differentiator in the cruise industry. So we’re continuing with that because it’s gotten great traction. We’re seeing an increase in new segments such as my MICE and millennials too.

Amidst sustainability concerns in the cruise tourism industry like pollution and wastage, what is Royal doing to address these ongoing issues?

We’ve addressed environmental concerns way before it became a popular headline. Royal understands how important the ocean is to us and our success. Our focus has always been on increasing efficiency with every new ship class that we build.

We invest in technology like our wastewater system. Royal Caribbean creates a lot of its own water through laundry and washing. We have a system that cleanses this water so that when it’s released, it is actually cleaner than most cities’ drinking water!

We also have an air lubrication system that streamlines the way the ship sails through water, reducing our fuel emission by about 4%. There are entire recycling plants on board our ships too.

Royal’s Save the Waves program has been a long-term sustainability strategy, but how is the brand hoping to go beyond reducing plastic usage?

The food that we source has to be through sustainable farm efforts and with proper certifications. We also offer over a thousand sustainable tours when docking at ports. Royal works with sustainable tourism partners across the world to develop such adventure tours.

What are Royal’s 2020 plans to grow the Southeast Asia cruise market?

2020 is going to be a big year because it’s the longest season we’ve ever had with the Quantum class. It’s a larger ship, so that alone is going to bring an incremental 150,000 guests into Singapore.

We’re also continuing to train travel partners and work with various governments to develop infrastructure that’s critical to our continued success. There’s great interest and demand − the barrier is infrastructure and developing more places for ships to visit.

How do you think the cruising landscape will change in Asia, especially in the next few years?

We’re in an exciting time in Asia because it’s really the fastest growing and most under-penetrated cruising destination in the world with cruise. We want to explore and develop this untapped potential.

Cruise brands like Royal Caribbean are bringing the newest hardware into the region as well. For instance, we announced that Wonder of the Seas − our fifth Oasis class ship − will be coming into market in 2021 and sailing from Shanghai.

What major challenges do you foresee for Royal in Asia this year?

An ongoing one is changing misperceptions to let people know that cruising is an affordable option and that there’s a variety of things for them to do on board.

We also want to streamline the immigration process at places that we visit, especially when just docking for eight to 10 hours.

Will we see any new ports and destinations on the radar for 2020?

The new cruise terminal in Tokyo is expected to open in time for the Olympics. And we have Voyager and Spectrum heading there that season, right in the heart of the Olympic village. The ships will be spending a few nights there so guests can experience the Olympics.

Are there any new customer segments Royal is hoping to target?

It’s more about targeting the mindsets of travellers rather than specific groups. But one big area of focus is corporate entities, to showcase Singapore and Royal as an attractive and unconventional MICE destination.

Short cruisers are popular with Asians, but are we seeing them take longer voyages or flying out of Asia?

Our five-night sailings are becoming more popular. As people cruise, they realize three and four days isn’t quite enough to fully experience the ship.

As for Asians fly-cruising, we see Europe as being very popular with them. We have the re-amplified Allure of the Seas sailing out of Barcelona this year. Alaska has a third Royal ship in the region as well, and taking the North Star over the glaciers has been a favourite with cruisers.

What is the brand message that Royal wants to relate to travel agents in 2020?

Travel agents will always be an important piece to Royal Caribbean success. As capacities grow, agents need to provide proper expertise to clients as a consultant. They need to ensure their first-time client is on the right cruise, versus taking the easy route of selling on price alone.

What advice would you give to agents this year, in terms of selling cruises and staying relevant?

A lot of research is done online, so we encourage everyone to at least have some type of social media and internet presence.  Also, to be aware of all the updates, because things continue to evolve and change.

The number one way for travel partners to grow their business is through repeats and referrals. So take the time to understand what the customer really wants for a family holiday, and they’re not going to look back on the price but the amazing experiences.