New RCL boss on higher commissions and new big ships

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Previously RC’s Associate Vice President of Market Development in China, Angie Stephen speaks to ASEAN Cruise News about taking over the reins from Sean Treacy.

You’ve arrived at a fascinating time Spectrum of the Seas will join Ovation and give Royal Caribbean the newest and biggest fleet in Southeast Asia.  How do you see this changing the market and do you see this very modern fleet attracting a new kind of cruiser?

The arrival of Spectrum in May next year and upcoming 6 month season of Quantum opens us up to a new audience. The larger ships and first-in-class amenities are grabbing the attention of new cruisers like millennials, singles, young couples and the MICE segment. It’s helping us further penetrate the market and grow the popularity of cruising in general.

With the launch of our new marketing campaign “Come Seek”, we’re also targeting a mindset. New features like the virtual reality bungee dome, robotic bartenders, iFly and Flowrider are all targeting cruisers with a more adventurous mindset ─ the ship being the adventure in itself.

How will you be training and incentivising travel agents to sell these two big and modern vessels?

Bringing in new hardware and quality product is an incentive in itself. We’ve found that our travel partners in Singapore and Southeast Asia are excited and hungry for more info. We don’t have to incentivise them to want to learn, because they desire to put clients on a quality product. We do have a history of high guest satisfaction, and that referral business is important to the travel agent.

Of course, we do regular training seminars and FAM trips to let them experience the product. Our sales team is focused on ensuring our travel partners have the marketing tools and product knowledge to sell to their clients.

Do you see Royal increasing commissions?

These bigger ships command a premium in the marketplace, so travel agents will naturally earn more by selling a premium product. This translating into higher commissions for us as well. We also teach our travel partners how to upsell. Spectrum has the first-ever suite neighbourhood in the RC fleet, so that’s a nice upsell for travel partners to earn more. We see interest from families and MICE groups who want to rent out the entire suite neighbourhood.

Spectrum has a capacity of 5,600 passengers.  Princess is putting in the Majestic. Dream has plans for a 5,000 pax vessel in 2020. Do you see this capacity being soaked up by Southeast Asia, or are you setting your sights on fly cruises? And what is the importance of markets like Australia to Asia?

We’re seeing strong demand across the entire region. We see the Singapore market interested in 3 night cruises. Quantum’s 4 or 5 night cruises are popular with the local market, Malaysia, Indonesia, India and even North Asia.

For fly cruises, we attract more cruisers from Australia, US and Europe. Australia is indeed an important market ─ especially on the longer itineraries.

Can Southeast Asians be persuaded to fly cruise?

Yes. We’re now seeing repeat customers who start with our shorter local products, and come back to travel with us to Europe. We’ve seen an increase in Europe cruises this year, because of the arrival of Symphony of the Seas in Barcelona. So there is a growth in fly-cruising across the region. Going back to travel partner training, that’s also a focus of ours ─ to emphasize local product but around the world.

You served with Royal in China.  What are the lessons for Southeast Asia and its trade partners from the China market?

China has seen a lot of fast growth and new capacity. I think Southeast Asia is also poised for similar growth. When that growth happens, the most important thing is to diversify product. There’s a need to understand the unique selling features of each product and pair the right customer to the right product.

We are seeing something of a retreat from China.  What are your thoughts?

There is a retreat, but also new ships coming in like Spectrum. From a RC perspective, our commitment to China doesn’t change. We’re still bringing in new hardware and maintaining a leadership position in the market. We’ve been in that market for 10 years, so we’re constantly evolving to meet its needs. We work well with distribution partners and have good relations with the government and port authorities. It’s really about showing the value of cruise tourism for the country.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role as APAC Managing Director for Royal Caribbean, and what do you hope to achieve?

I’m coming in at an exciting time ─ we’re in our 11th year. For me, it’s the start of a new decade and positioning the brand to take advantage of growth opportunities, whether it’s partnerships with the government, travel partners, tourism boards or airlines.

 What are your thoughts on the growth of cruising in the APAC region? In particular, the problem of shorter cruises versus the business sense of longer cruises?

We’re just getting started. Developing infrastructure at various ports is going to position us to accept more ships. As for short versus long cruises, it’s really about diversification and segmentation. There’s an audience for both ─ it’s about putting products in front of the right people. Short cruises attract new cruisers and the MICE industry, whilst longer ones (e.g. Quantum) attract fly-cruisers and repeat guests.

In our last interview with Sean Treacy, he spoke of how port infrastructure and technology were some of the biggest obstacles to cruise growth in SE Asia. How does RC hope to make headway in that regard?

It’s a constant dialogue with port officials and the government, to help them understand the importance of cruise tourism to the market. We want to prove that it’s worth the investment. From a technology standpoint, we continue to struggle with ensuring a fast and frictionless embarkation. Globally, we’re investing in technology to improve this. We’re about to launch a new pier in Miami with frictionless check-in, thanks to facial recognition and barcodes. Also, a custom app where everything can be done in advance. We hope to roll that out across our fleet when the technology develops.