“The cruise market in Ireland – including 6+-star and river cruising – is currently around 35,000 guests and there is potential for the industry to double that over the next five years,” Ben Bouldin, Associate Vice President and Managing Director UK & Ireland, Royal Caribbean International, told ITTN’s Neil Steedman, “and certainly I intend to double our ‘healthy share’ of that 35,000!”
“The cruise industry is where major investment into travel is coming from, with many new ships coming on stream and on order at an average of around $1 billion each, and the column inches in print and online now devoted to cruising is extensive and constantly growing. While Royal Caribbean will not be introducing any new ships in 2017, we will soon have some very interesting news about 2018.
“We appointed Jennifer Callister as Head of Ireland last August, with expanded roles for Michaela Banks as Regional Sales Manager, Ireland and Holly Wilkinson as Trade Supprt Executive covering all 350 agents. We have also improved our booking tools and systems so that it is easier for smaller agents to book Royal Caribbean. The product knowledge and expertise on cruising in some smaller agencies hasn’t been great, but that’s where there is much potential for us to assist them and increase bookings. The RCI team will also be supporting the Azamara Club Cruises team throughout Ireland this year.
“Irish B2B suppliers such as Sunway, of course, have also been a big driving force in broadening awareness of cruising and increasing bookings.
“Last Saturday I spent a day in an Irish travel agency and I booked 19 clients in four hours, none of whom had come in looking for a cruise. Once you fully explain the all-inclusive nature of a cruise and the wide range of activities, entertainment, dining options, drinks packages, ports of call, and so on, the cruise product can become an easy sell.”
Last year you visited the Aran Islands with Fahy Travel, so do you plan any similar visits this year? “Oh, that was a bit of fun – and Fahy Travel did get bookings after my trip. Let’s just say that I was speaking with Fahy Travel just the other day!
How is Royal Caribbean responding to the environmental issues about cruising? “Our industry is never going to have the most environmentally friendly vehicles, but RCI makes every conceivable effort to minimise our footprint. For example, Harmony of the Seas is 30% more efficient than the other two Oasis class ships, thanks to improvements in hydrodynamic design, a new type of engine and product enhancements such as the tiny bubbles that are pushed under and stick to the bottom to lessen hull friction so that the ship literally glides on a cushion of air. Big and small improvements are constantly being made, right down to installing more efficient light bulbs.
“Also, although our ships are bigger than others, they do not necessarily carry more people, because the density of our ships is very carefully considered.”
Finally, what are your aspirations for 2017? “We aim to continue to service the trade in Ireland, North and South, better than anyone else, with better tools, more agency calls, training, opportunities to experience our ships, and so on.
“We have a strong commitment to the retail trade and working with independent agents in Ireland and in this regard we will be embarking on a brand new initiative with Irish Travel Trade News that will celebrate excellence – more details to follow!”