By Angie Stephen, Vice President, Asia Pacific at Royal Caribbean Cruises
Like you, I am anxious for travel to start again. We are in the business of travel, of creating memories—whether it is personal travel, business travel, or event travel. We are all anxious to get back into the business that we know and love. As we managed to get Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas sailing from Singapore since December 2020, I thought I would take this time to share with you some of the things we have learned about running a cruise business in the COVID-19 era that you may be able to apply to your own business.
1. Cruise is a safe travel bubble.
One important thing to note is that cruising is a safe bubble. I think more and more people are realizing that if you put the measures in place to test your guest before they come on board—plus all the safe management measures, you are essentially creating a safe bubble that no other travel option can create at the moment.
Any cruise line that is operating across any brand at the moment is doing pre-cruise testing. That is to ensure that the people on board are COVID-free.
2. It is important to expand your audience reach.
What we are seeing when we resume cruises in Singapore is that we have welcomed a lot of new cruisers onboard. This could be because people are seeing that cruising can be a safe experience and the trip can be very convenient, hence they would like to give it a try for the first time.
So, don’t just go back to the existing guests or corporate clients that you had before. There’s an entirely new audience out there.
In addition, we are seeing that our new guests are mostly younger people. (Maybe the seniors are a little reluctant to travel at the moment.) So this would help us to carve out our marketing and business strategies going forward.
Also, if you typically do corporate meetings and incentives; while large group gatherings are not allowed at the moment, start thinking about individual incentive programs. Instead of doing group events, give your top performing employees cruise tickets that they can redeem at their leisure.
3. Be where your customers are. Go digital and social.
Because everyone is staying at home and working from home, having a strong digital and social presence is crucial for any travel brands when they offer any kind of holiday travel in times of COVID.
You want to be where your customers are.
So, make sure that you have a strong digital and social media presence. This does not necessarily mean that you need to talk to your clients or your customers about making a booking. It is about staying engaged with them through travel stories, through educational platforms about health and safety and travel before you go in and give the hard sell.
Staying active on social media is a great way to stay engaged with your customers when you really do not have anything to sell them at the moment.
4. Be flexible.
One thing we have all learned in 2020 is to remain adaptable and flexible. It is because the speed at which we are learning things relative to the pandemic and how it impacts our business continues to change so rapidly.
One example would be, in the beginning, people did not think that testing would be available as readily as it is now, and that vaccines would be quickly produced at large scale and seem to be the key to unlocking travel.
Once you understand how these nuances impact your business, you can be flexible to take advantage of the situation.
5. Build your pipeline.
Maybe people are not ready to book their trips now, but they can be ready in the next few months. What we are seeing is the trend of people planning ahead up to Q4 of 2021 and Q1 of 2022. This is because people do believe that with vaccines on the horizon, they can start booking their dream holidays or their big corporate events. Take advantage of that. Talk to your customers about what they are dreaming about for the future and go ahead to start those travel plans now and then.
6. Be ready.
The last one that I wanted to share with you is just to be ready. It feels like that we have been at a really long, red traffic light; but that traffic light is about to turn green and you cannot wait until it turns green to start your preparation to get back to the business of yours and hope to reach the volume and the rate of what you are doing your business in the past.
Use the downtime now to be ready.
That means if you are a travel agency and maybe all your front-line agents have been reduced to the number of hours that they are working or perhaps even they had to be furloughed, have a plan to activate your network of employees before many of them find other channels of work. You need to understand: either you can bring those employees back or you have to recruit new employees and train them all over again.
This is also the final message I just want to leave you with. Be ready and anticipate what the new normal is going to look like. That is important for your business’s recovery. There are opportunities that have been created as part of the pandemic, and I am confident that travel is going to resume will be stronger and better than ever.
I look forward to the future of our industry where we work together to rebuild the future of travel, the future cruise and we would be able to welcome our guests and clients onboard really soon.