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RCL Cares racks up more than 3,000 requests for help in first week

Carol Cabezas, Dondra Ritzenthaler, Vicki Freed.jpeg
From left, Azamara's Carol Cabezas, Celebrity's Dondra Ritzenthaler and Royal Caribbean's Vicki Freed
More than 3,000 travel professionals have already contacted the Royal Caribbean group for help navigating US financial relief programs.

First week of RCL Cares

This was in the first week of RCL Cares, an initiative by the sales teams of Azamara, Celebrity Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Silversea to guide travel advisors through the complexities of the CARES Act. The legislation has provisions to help small businesses and independent contractors as well as airline 'ticket agents,' the statutory term for travel agencies.

The CARES Act passed on a Friday. Royal Caribbean Chairman and CEO Richard Fain immediately encouraged his sales leaders to think about how they could help travel partners tap into it. Two days later, on a Sunday, the sales teams forged a plan during a conference call and the next day the teams began training in relevant parts of the bill.  

Over 200 one-to-one calls so far

Travel professionals were invited to find information on and request personalized assistance if needed. More than 3,000 have already done so, and over 200 calls have been completed.

'We are so proud of ASTA (the American Society of Travel Advisors) getting agents into the bill. We decided right away we wanted to assist ... not just in words but in actions,' said Vicki Freed, SVP sales and trade support & service, Royal Caribbean International.

Many cruise retailers are independent contractors and 'they need a lifeline and that's what our company is trying to be — a lifeline to help them,' she added.

The purpose of the CARES Act is to 'keep everyone healthy,' noted Dondra Ritzenthaler, SVP sales and trade support & service, Celebrity. 'We're very grateful the government did it.'

Sales teams the friendly face at a daunting time

'Our sales teams are the friendly, familiar face in what can be considered a pretty scary thing,' said Carol Cabezas, chief operating officer, Azamara. 'Working with the government can be daunting.'

Cabezas elaborated that Fain 'always says we must do good — not just do business but do good for our stakeholders. It was Richard's idea and we all jumped on.'

The sales teams were coached by experts in the most relevant parts of the complex legislation — the CARES Act stretches nearly 1,000 pages — so they can guide travel partners through the basics. Should further help be needed, Royal Caribbean aims to have an escalation desk available in the next day or two.

The questions have been fairly consistent — for example, where can independent contractors go to apply for unemployment benefits? And about 20% of the requests are from travel agency owners about small business loans.

Royal Cares supplements what key retail groups like Signature Travel Network, Travel Leaders Group, Virtuoso and others are doing to support their members. ASTA and the Small Business Administration (SBA) are helping, too.

'We're just one more resource,' Freed told Seatrade Cruise News, explaining that organizations like the SBA may get 'weighted down' since they also deal with non-travel sectors.

Staying close in a tough period

Ritzenthaler thinks staying close to travel partners and visible as a corporation during this tough period will be remembered when cruise operations resume.

And travel advisors ought to keep in touch with their clients, for the same reason. It's not the time for hard sales, Freed said, but it's good to keep communicating. As she put it: 'At the end of the day, people remember who was there for them.'

The Royal Caribbean group sales leaders, also including Mark Conroy, managing director, the Americas, for Silversea, are keeping their teams active — paying virtual sales visits, hosting virtual cruise nights, talking about groups and planning for the future.

'The sales teams are remaining highly engaged,' Cabezas said.

'We're still moving forward,' Ritzenthaler added. 'We're looking at the windshield and not in the rear-view mirror. When the business starts, we know there will be pent-up demand.'