ROYAL CARIBBEAN CRUISE line could add more Irish port calls to its 2018 itineraries after talks with local port authorities about putting their stops on the list.
The company’s UK and Ireland boss, Ben Bouldin, told Fora there will be “a couple of surprises” when the company announces its deployment for next year’s season over the coming months.
“Ireland is a really important market for us,” he said. “Not just the sales market. We recognise the value of bringing guests to Ireland. We’ve done lots of investment and worked really hard with the port authorities here.”
“We have the capability, and where possible, I’d love to come to Ireland.”
However, Bouldin said that because of the size of some of the company’s ships, “there are limitations to where we can take them”.
He added: “At the same time, we actively look at our port infrastructure around the world to make sure we have as many destinations as possible available to us.”
“Itinerary fatigue is something that some people who are regular cruisers struggle with. It’s really important that we continue to innovate new ports of call.”
Bouldin noted that authorities at the port in Galway are interested in a Royal Caribbean cruise call. Currently, only one Royal Caribbean-operated ship, Vision of the Seas, comes to Ireland, stopping at Dublin and Cork.
“I don’t think selling Ireland as a port call is a challenge,” Bouldin said. “There are lots of people who would quite happily come to Dublin as opposed to going to Bruges or Le Havre (in France), for example.
“I think Ireland offers some fantastic ports of call if you can get in,” he said. “I think the other thing is that it’s incredibly popular with our American guests.”
When it comes to selling cruise packages to Irish holidaymakers, Bouldin said the market here is “perhaps not quite as adventurous” as others when it comes to destination choices, with most customers opting for departures from Barcelona or the Caribbean.
“They know what they like,” he said. “They don’t tend to be as motivated by some of the further afield, rest-of-world itineraries.”
There is no appetite for cruises that start and finish in Ireland because “most of our Irish guests want to get to the sun quickly”.
There are other distinctions that set apart the average Irish customer to those from other markets, he said.
Irish guests tend to be slightly younger, with the average age being 45. The typical age of a Royal Caribbean customer is 49.
However Bouldin said the perception that cruise holidays are for older people is a stereotype “that frankly I don’t think exists today”.
“Our TV advert is full of unique, exciting places and imagery,” he said.
“We’re not about reinforcing formal dining every night. We’re not about ballroom dancing. We’re about adventure.”
When asked how the company handles negative associations with holidays at sea, such as outbreaks of vomiting bugs, Bouldin said, “It’s not something that our guests should worry or ever concern themselves about.”
He said “they’re very far and few between” and that the company, and the wider cruise industry, takes every sensible measure to maintain on-board hygiene.
Another move Royal Caribbean has made to shed the cruise industry’s old-fashioned image is to fit its ships with an ever-increasing amount of gadgetry. For example, Harmony of the Seas, the largest cruise ship in the world, features a robotic bar that serves drinks and a 10-storey slide.
“Does (the robot) serve you the most carefully measured beverage of your choice? I don’t know,” Bouldin said.
“The fact that they dance to the music and the fact that people can order their drinks on an iPad and watch it made in front of them provides a real theatrical element to having a drink.”
Other innovations include screening films near swimming pools, zip lines and extensive children’s clubs offerings. There are also a number of West End productions on-board, like the musical Grease.
Bouldin said the “entertainment on board is pitched perfectly at families” but added that a cruise holiday is not a family-only proposition.
He said while couples with children dominate during school holidays, there is a greater uptake in romantic getaways during the shoulder, or off-peak, season.
Asked how political events like Brexit have impacted the cruise industry so far, Bouldin said the company is working with trade organisation CLIA “to work through the possible ramifications” of Britain leaving the EU.
The company has been forced to lift prices because it reports in US dollars to its American parent, meaning the exchange rate with the pound has a direct impact on its bottom line.
“But we’re managing to work our way through that,” Bouldin said.