Royal Caribbean boss moves to dispel UK cruise concerns

Independence of the Seas in Southampton photo by Dave Jones.

Royal Caribbean Cruises’ boss has moved to dispel concerns that the UK cruise industry faces a bleak future amid ongoing Brexit uncertainty.

Royal Caribbean International last week cancelled Independence of the Seas’ 2020 UK season and announced the ship would operate out of Florida instead to meet the demand for Perfect Day in CocoCay, the line’s new private island in the Bahamas.

The decision left some agents to question whether a soft UK market due to Brexit had prompted the decision – rather than a soaring interest in the $250 million private island which will be served by 11 Royal ships this year.

Speaking on Celebrity Edge’s maiden ex-UK sailing from Southampton on Monday, Richard Fain, Royal Caribbean Cruises’ chairman and chief executive, said: “We are here for the long term, we are not here for the current climate.

“There is no doubt that the UK market will do very well in the long-term and it continues to be our second largest market. We have been here when it has gone through cycles. The cruise industry is not fickle – it is solid and consistent.”

Fain admitted there was “a modicum of uncertainty” in the UK market as confusion continued over when Britain would leave the EU.

But he added that Royal Caribbean International had to move more capacity to North America due to “an extraordinary surge in interest” in Perfect Day, which launched just over a week ago.

“This is a wonderful problem to have,” he said, adding: “That we don’t have enough ships to satisfy the [customer] demand.”

Plans to expand the existing Perfect Day site were being looked at, said Fain. Only a third of the island is currently being used by Royal Caribbean to accommodate passengers.

Fain also added: “We look at the UK market as more than just ships sailing out of the UK. One of the reasons why the UK market has been so attractive to us is Brits are amazing travellers.”

Sailings in the eastern Mediterranean represented “a great opportunity” for Britons looking for fly-cruise options away from the UK, Fain said.

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‘Hurricanes prevented UK cruise numbers reaching two million mark’

Image result for caribbean hurricanes

The above Satellite shows three Hurricanes.

The number of cruises sold to British holidaymakers in 2017 may have exceeded two million if hurricanes had not hit the Caribbean, it has been claimed.

Clia last week reported a record year for the British cruise industry, with 1,959,000 Britons taking a cruise holiday in 2017 – an increase of 0.5% against 2016.

Stuart Leven, Clia’s UK and Ireland chairman, said it was a “major factor” that “five or six weeks” after hurricanes Irma and Maria struck ships were sent to help with the humanitarian effort.

He told Travel Weekly: “I would not lay it firmly at the door of hurricanes but several ships were taken out of service in order to help, which means there were fewer holidays to sell and flights were cancelled. It is a major factor.”

He added that the hurricanes had “not had any impact” on future bookings, adding that it could have been “the difference” between hitting the two million mark and not.

When asked about the figures at Abta’s First Time Cruisers Conference in central London, Leven said the UK market has “massive scope for growth”.

He said cruise lines would be encouraged to deploy more ships in the UK due to people cruising for the first time giving higher satisfaction scores after the sailing.

“If you can get more people on ships there is a massive scope for growth,” he said.

Leven cited how the UK cruise industry holds a 4.5% share of the holiday market, but if that figure increased by one percent that would add 500,000 passengers to the annual number of Britons taking cruises.

He also said: “Most of the agents are better at selling a cruise than the cruise lines are. They are the experts. Eight out of 10 bookings come through the trade.”

MSC sets course for ‘UK comeback’

Photo Credit Dave Jones

by Natasha Salmon

MSC Cruises plans to double its UK sales team as it aims for growth in the UK market, Natasha Salmon reports from the line’s new offices in west London

MSC Cruises has pledged allegiance to the trade as it plans to double its sales team ahead of a planned “huge comeback” in the UK market.

The operator says it has set its sights on helping the UK reclaim its position as the largest cruise market in Europe having been overtaken by Germany.

Market ambitions

Speaking at MCS’s new offices in Uxbridge, UK managing director Antonio Paradiso and sales director Steve Williams said strengthening its team of account managers was key.

Paradiso said: “MSC will be making a huge comeback in the UK as the British market really matters to us. We have had the opportunity to develop the German market and it has overtaken Britain in the rankings. We want to get the UK back to number two in the world [behind the US].

“The size of the market is always going to be linked to the capacity you have at sea, and as we have 11 ships coming in the next 10 years, we want 3.6 million European passengers by 2024.”

This year MSC operated six sailings from Southampton on MSC Splendida, the line’s first UK departures for two years.

The family‑owned line will launch the 4,500-capacity MSC Meraviglia next year and the first of its new Seaside-class ship in 2018.

Paradiso said he wants MSC to become one of the top-three cruise lines in the UK and has tasked Williams with growing the sales team from six to 14 following his switch from rival Royal Caribbean.

“It is a huge opportunity to restructure a sales business in a way that really gives British and Irish cruise agents what they expect,” said Williams.

“We will have a team of regional sales managers covering the UK to grow our presence on the ground, where we were weaker before, especially with high street agents.

“They will be overseen by a head of retail. Plus, I will also have a team of national account managers who will focus on supporting cruise specialists. We’re keen to build great relationships with the consortia and multiples too.”

Commission review

Another area Williams will be assessing is commission and MSC’s agent reward scheme, with an individually focused loyalty scheme under consideration.

“There is a base commission but we are reviewing the whole commercial structure,” he said.

“We will work with business owners to discuss what rewards and commission are appropriate for their companies. Currently, we don’t believe a blanket scheme is the right way for us, but this will develop as our regional account managers work with frontline staff.”

Ship visits

Agent engagement will be enhanced with more ship visits in Scotland, Ireland and Southampton as well as more fam trips and a new online training platform.

Paradiso stressed agents remain the priority for a line that sees just 2% of its business come direct.

“We are aware that some of the larger cruise lines are adopting aggressive approaches to drive direct business. We have no intention to do this,” he said.

“We have a contact centre in the UK, so if people want to book direct with us they can, but the trade remains our key priority.”

On price, Paradiso said: “We are starting a journey to become more popular and the prices will reflect that. There will always be value for money, but we offer premium cruises as well with our Yacht Club.”

As part of a drive to make UK agents feel like they are part of “the MSC family”, the line will host 50 agents at Travel Weekly’s Globe Travel Awards 2017 in January.