Vicki Freed, Royal Caribbean International's senior vice president of sales and trade support and service, has been reaching out to the travel advisor community in a variety of ways amid the Covid-19 pandemic, including calls, emails and her weekly "coffee talk" webcast. Senior editor Jamie Biesiada spoke with Freed about the importance of communication as the travel industry copes with the impact of the crisis.
Q: How have you been connecting with travel advisors?
A: I'm dropping them notes in the mail, I've been sending them emails. I'm just trying to connect with people so that when we get through this, they'll remember that human connection.
A lot of them just need guidance: What should I be doing now? How should I be marketing? Should I be marketing? How do I keep my business alive? I think they view me as a resource, somebody who's been in this business a long time. I'm a pretty calm, level-headed person, so I think people say, "You know, she won't get emotional, she'll be able to help guide us through these challenging times," or at least be a sounding board.
I've been giving travel partners some messaging on how I would message during these times. I wouldn't be doing a hard sell. I would just be reminding people to be healthy, stay healthy, and that we, too, shall get past this. And then, if you do decide that you're going to need a break post-Covid-19, I'll be here, whether it's 2020, 2021 or beyond.
Q: How have you been using video in your outreach efforts?
A: The purpose of my coffee chats, it's really [travel advisors'] hour. What's on their mind? However, I do spend the first 12 minutes giving them an update on maybe [the cancellation program] Cruise With Confidence, or last week it was [agency assistance program] RCL Cares, or how to find your FCCs [future cruise credits]. An insight. And then I try to give them two little nuggets of something they can look forward to in their business. It's really the rebuilding of their business. It's something that they can take with them to gain some knowledge. I don't want to keep rehashing where we're at, because where we're at isn't going to change. We need to look forward.
We talked about hosting virtual cruise nights a couple weeks ago, and I got a lot of feedback on it. People said, "I tried it, it was excellent, Vicki." And other people said, "I really want to try it, but I don't get it; give me the step by step." So I showed them the different platforms and what the costs were, and then I showed them the six steps to launching an "armchair traveler" program or a "stay vacation" program or "let's dream about vacation" program.
Q: What tools are you giving advisors for connecting with clients? I've seen some nice Royal Caribbean photos used as video call backdrops.
A: Yes, and we showed them how to get that. We said, 'Look, you could have Perfect Day at CocoCay in the background, you can have a ship in the background, and it'll make you look a little bit more professional. It'll give people the color and the excitement.'
Q: Have you started looking at restructuring agreements with travel agencies or offering incentives at this point?
A: It's a little too soon to start that big journey, but what we have done is we are protecting commissions on the final paid bookings if canceled, whether they're electing to cancel on their own because it's Cruise With Confidence or whether we cancel the sailing. So we are helping the travel partner by giving them their full commission. Even though this costs our company a lot of money and we didn't generate any revenue because the sailings were canceled or the people canceled on us, we feel that, in the long haul, we need these travel partners to be successful, to be financially strong. So we're doing our part.
Q: I've noticed you're still sending your emails with Vicki's Tips every day, messages of inspiration, business ideas and more.
A: I'm trying to just be in their inbox, make it relevant to the times we're in right now.
So many travel partners are home-based. Some of them are very isolated. Some of them might be living alone. I just want to be somebody who they know is a resource to them and somebody that cares about them. Really, that's my goal. I do care about these travel partners. My whole career has been about serving travel advisors.