Juan Silva, Director, eDistribution Strategy and Development Sales, Royal Caribbean International, faced a communications breakdown with the thousands of travel agents who book 80% of the company’s cruises. Conventional fax and email alerts of promotions, itinerary changes and other information were being lost in a storm of messages that the agents receive from all carriers.
“We needed to be more targeted with our communications and not overwhelm agents with emails,” Silva says. “We heard from agents that we’re running so many specials, but by the time they see them by fax or email, the promotions are already over. And we needed to quickly deliver critical information such as itinerary changes.”
The situation cried out for a new communications channel that could deliver this information. At the same time, Silva’s team wanted to provide another means of access to the online tools that help agents book new passengers and create loyalty to the company’s two cruise brands, Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises. CAMPAIGN
Other travel companies, such as Southwest Airlines, had experienced success with desktop applications for consumers. So, Silva’s team decided to test a downloadable widget that could deliver critical information directly to travel agents’ desktops. It also linked to a custom portal that offered marketing and booking tools for Royal Caribbean’s brands.
Here’s how they developed and launched their own desktop application, dubbed “VIP CruisePass”:
-> Step #1. Identify information to be delivered
Silva’s team worked with major stakeholders, including the sales communication, technology deployment and marketing teams, to identify the key issues a desktop application should address and the types of information it would deliver. They came up with:
Primary business goals:
o Reducing emails and faxes to agents
o Supporting both brands
Four categories of information delivered most often to travel agents:
o Company news
o Special offers and deals for agents’ clients
o Travel itinerary updates (particularly important during hurricane season)
o Weather alerts, which agents typically share with customers
-> Step #2. Develop the widget application
Silva’s team hired a technology developer with experience creating B-to-C desktop applications. The widget was incorporated with the company’s existing travel agent portal and online booking and marketing tools.
The following tasks were completed in 12 weeks:
- Choose the information architecture, which relied on the C++ programming language to handle data and Flash to deliver content.
- Integrate the widget with the existing content management system.
- Train the Royal Caribbean team to work with the application.
The widget was a Flash-enabled window where special offers and weather or itinerary updates were displayed. Users could then click on those links to take them to the complete article or offer on Royal Caribbean’s travel agent portal, CruisingPower.com. The website also hosts an online-booking tool and sales and marketing support services.
“There are two benefits -- having the information about offers and deals, itinerary updates and weather alerts right at their fingertips, without having to go to CruisingPower.com and providing an additional entry point into CruisingPower tools, which can be launched right into the CruisePass,” Silva says.
-> Step #3. Launch campaign to encourage downloads
With the widget ready to launch, Silva’s team worked with the company’s marketing groups to develop campaigns to encourage downloads by agents. “We basically identified every touchpoint we normally use to go to market and went out to spread the word.”
The team also guaranteed that users would receive special travel offers 24 hours before other agents.
- Series of four print ads explaining the benefits of VIP CruisePass. Ads ran in trade publications like Travel Weekly, TravelAge West and publications geared toward home-based agents.
- Banner ads on CruisingPower.com aimed at existing portal users or new agents.
- HTML emails sent to the company’s house list of 20,000 subscribers.
- Sales force training to encourage reps to promote VIP CruisePass to their prospects and agent customers.
- Contest that offered the chance to win free cruises and other prizes to the first 1,000 travel agents who downloaded the application.
-> Step #4. Deliver updates that encouraged agent interaction
Rather than setting an automatic update schedule, Silva’s team manually managed information delivered through VIP CruisePass. They didn’t want to re-create the blizzard of faxes and emails that agents were already struggling to manage.
“We wanted to make sure we were not miss-utilizing VIP CruisePass and constantly sending them information that might be nice to have but is not information they need to have.”
On average, the team sent two to three alerts per day. Some days, with nothing to communicate, they wouldn’t send an alert. A horn sound alerted agents to offers or special discounts.
Agents could respond to alerts in several ways:
- Click through to CruisingPower.com to access the online selling tools, such as an eQuote engine or a color brochure and flyer creation tool, to develop marketing materials to target clients.
- Click through to the company’s online booking tool to reserve berths immediately if an offer already matched a client request to an agent.
- Click through to the company’s customer-service tool for an itinerary update. Agents could contact all customers booked on a cruise by phone or email to inform them of the change.
“VIP CruisePass has been very well received, and people are talking about it,” Silva says. “Other areas within the company are considering similar applications for the B-to-C market.”
More than 7,000 travel agents have downloaded the desktop application in about a year. The product-launch contest gave those numbers a big boost -- there were 1,000 downloads in two weeks.
The team has tracked metrics that show agents are responding well to the application and using the online tools:
o More than 90% of agents who downloaded and opened the tool kept it for more than a day
o 46% of agents who downloaded the widget have used it for an aggregate of 120 minutes -- a high number because much of the activity takes place after users click through to the CruisingPower website
o Users who kept the widget for more than a week average 28 interactions per week
o 54% of users are accessing the Royal Caribbean offers page
o 36% of users are accessing the Celebrity Cruises offers page
Silva’s focus now is on increasing downloads among travel agents with in-person training events, webinars and an online Flash demo. As more agents download the widget, Silva’s team is able to rely less on fax and emails.
The team saw a slight “single-digit” reduction in fax marketing expenses. “I think, little by little, agents are making the transition and adopting technology,” Silva says. “Even those small steps translate into savings.” Useful links related to this article
Creative samples from Royal Caribbean:
OTOlabs - helped Royal Caribbean develop the desktop application:
Royal Caribbean International: