By Hollie-Rae Merrick
Stuart Leven admits he had not realised the significance of the peak booking period for the cruise sector until he started his job eight weeks ago.
As the turn-of-year booking rush looms, the new UK and Ireland managing director of Royal Caribbean International says he’s also been surprised by how strong trade relations are in the sector.
Leven has moved fast in his first two months, acquainting himself with the workings of the company, visiting the line’s new call centre in Guatemala, flying to Miami to meet the rest of the team and spending time with travel agents up and down the UK.
He has even managed to squeeze in a ship visit – his first cruise experience.
And he has worked with the team on the announcement that Anthem of the Seas would call Southampton home – something he is particularly excited about.
Leven has also brought in a 20-strong sales team, is recruiting for a head of finance and has appointed a head of PR, who will join in the new year.
He believes it all adds up to an important new era for Royal Caribbean International, as it prepares for its first full year as a standalone brand in the UK with its own dedicated team, as well as with new ships on the horizon.
Over the past few weeks Leven has spent a lot of time in agencies around the UK. It is, he says, “a vital part of my role and it isn’t something I will stop doing”.
“Having worked in other areas of the leisure industry, I had not understood how strong the relationship was between Royal Caribbean and the travel trade.
“This is a very exciting and innovative company that is bringing its newest and most innovative ship, Anthem of the Seas, to the UK. That shows tremendous commitment and belief in the market.”
Leven credits the industry’s “unbelievably passionate” cruise experts for its growth.
“There are agents out there who see selling cruises as a part of their job, whether they work as a cruise expert in a multiple or an independent,” he says.
“But there are a lot of agents who we still need to reach. We need to go further to educate them, first about cruises in general, then to turn their attention to Royal Caribbean.”
Speaking about agents’ response to the Anthem announcement, Leven says: “The theme of Anthem has really caught people’s imaginations. I think it shows great commitment to the UK that it will be based in Southampton and agents appreciate that commitment.”
He believes attracting new-to-cruise passengers is vital for the entire industry, not just Royal Caribbean, and says educating agents is the first step to attracting newcomers.
Yet as well as regarding new-to‑cruise holidaymakers as a “massive opportunity” and a “big challenge”, Leven is also still keen to show avid cruisers who haven’t experienced Royal Caribbean what they are missing.
Call centre staff in Guatemala undergo training
Staff at Royal Caribbean International’s new Guatemala call centre have undergone a three-stage training process.
Stuart Leven said that while he expected a “few bumps in the road”, he was confident the centre would offer exceptional standards.
“I have set up six call centres in my career and there are always teething problems, but you work through any issues,” he said. “I’m very positive about the whole thing – this is a really good call centre.”
The centre has been taking calls from agents for the past two weeks. Prior to that the staff were put through technical training to learn the systems, before undertaking training in culture and knowledge.
The cruise line sent Legend of the Seas to Guatemala so the call centre staff could experience it first-hand.
“It’s important the people working in our call centre are passionate about the product,” said Leven.
Royal Caribbean International retained five members of staff from the previous UK-based call team to support the Guatemala office with promotions and product information.
Independence set for Southampton finale
Independence of the Seas is selling well for 2014 – its final year sailing from Southampton – after a “successful six years”.
Leven said: “One thing that definitely has resonated with me is the fact that we don’t just have Royal Caribbean fans – we have fans of the individual ships themselves. The fact that next year is Independence’s last year out of Southampton has caused a lot of feeling and we are seeing a lot of support for the ship.”
Independence of the Seas will next year operate 15 sailings out of Southampton, with the last one departing on November 1.