Exclusive: NI Travel News Catches Up with Royal Caribbean’s Head of Ireland

NI Travel News caught up with Jennifer Callister, Royal Caribbean International’s Head of Ireland, to find out the latest and whats to come on board the Royal Caribbean fleet...

NI Travel News caught up with Jennifer Callister, Royal Caribbean International’s Head of Ireland, to find out the latest and whats to come on board the Royal Caribbean fleet…

Q: So far, what confirmed methods will Royal Caribbean be using to achieve their recently announced “Destination net zero”?

A: Royal Caribbean as a totality,, have planned to build upon the strong track record we already have for delivering some of the most efficient ships on the seas but my understanding is that over the next 18 to 24 months they will develop goal that will be validated by the sign based targets initiative (SBTI) and this is the first pledge for the cruise industry. We are going to work with them to produce a publication and then once that is done we are going to follow up with their  recommendation.

So seemingly, what they will do is show a company like us how we can quickly put  initiatives in place and what we need to do to reduce are green house gases. So thats the first step. We are going to be working with local governments and local  suppliers and ship yards so working to develop alternative and accessible fuels and technologies to get to destination net zero.

There are 4 key pillars to concentrate on and the first one is the modernisation of our global brand throughout the fleet- 13 new energy efficient and alternatively fuelled vessels coming in the next number of years. To continue investment in energy efficient programmes for our fleet which is important. Third pillar is development of alternative fuels and power solutions and then finally, have an integration of shore based supply chains so we can work with those to get tot the destination zero approach. The plan is to get to zero emissions ships by 2035 and 2040 and have set a zero emissions target for shipping by 2050 which  includes every ship. It’s fantastic that we have announced this initiative and I know that we will be working really hard on it over the next number of years.

We always lead the way with these things and have a wealth of knowledge in these areas; We know we have to do it for future cruising so we want to make it as sustainable as possible  and to get to that zero.

Q: What has been the reaction of guests climbing back on board the Royal Caribbean fleet with covid-19 changes?

A: People are really eager to get back out there and they want to go on holidays and seek new experiences and I think we are going to see that even more as we move into 2022 since we have basically all been housebound for the past  year and people have missed out on a lot and they’ve missed out on big milestones in peoples lives like weddings so people are really eager to get out. It’s critical that the cruise industry and the holiday industry recover and do everything in our power to make it as safe as possible for people to enjoy their holiday, particularly with Royal Caribbean, and we have seen consumer confidence is growing out there for sure which is fantastic so everything we are doing is giving customer confidence around cruising again.

What’s quite interesting too is we are seeing new to cruise customers so people that haven’t cruised before, whether that be because they have never been and see this as a good opportunity now. For example, we just launched an around the world cruise for December 2023 but 70% of the cruise has already been sold and its a 274 night cruise so thats nine  months and 70% of that has been sold already and I know we had a very big booking last week as our royal suite was sold which equated to about 3 quarters of a million dollars for that trip, yes it is for multiple people but its in the royal fleet, and I know that this week we have sold our first passenger from the UK and Ireland so the confidence is definitely out there.

We have our protocols in place where anyone over the age of 18 has to be vaccinated and anyone over the age of 2 has to complete the safety test as well before they get on board ship, which again adds to the consumer confidence.

We had a lot of ships sailing around the UK this summer with our staycation event and we also had Harmony of the Seas sailing out of Barcelona and dual sailing out of Cyprus and any guests that went on these trips loved the experience,  I know we had reduced capacity so obviously there was less  people on the ship, but I know the staff were so excited to have people on board the ship and it really came across that guests enjoyed the experience. The experience is still there and all the shows went ahead with mask wearing and social distancing on board but I think people have got used to it on land so I think they are happy enough to  do it when it needs to be done on the ship; I don’t think it took away from the experience and people really enjoyed the trips and we are seeing the demand for 2022 right now which is great to see.

The health and  safety of the customer is paramount and making  sure that they enjoy their holiday experience to the best we can give them so I really do believe that anything we did this year added to the confidence of people who have came back and told their travel agents and friends and family so it shows confidence is building for sure.

We have good practices in place regarding covid so if you test positive within 14 days of travelling we are offering refunds and on the ship if you were tested (tests are done on day 2 and day 8 onboard) and for some reason tested positive then you are covered and taken off at the next port of call where you will be looked after in terms of quarantine and getting home, so everything is covered by us- We have a team of people looking after that and the facilities in every port we sail to has protocols in place to make sure that customers are looked after.

Q: The introduction of new generation ships has many cruise goers eagerly anticipating what this will look like- Could you give our readers a brief insight into what to expect in the coming years as Royal Caribbean expands?

A: It’s interesting because many companies have had scheduled ship builds for this year and none have cancelled any ship builds so thats where the confidence is within the cruise industry and next year alone there will be more capacity alone than there was pre- covid which is amazing. So there are 16 new ocean cruises coming across all the cruise lines and 10 river cruise vessels so thats incredible and even for us we have Odyssey of the Seas joining the fleet there last month and that is a Quantium class ship which is up there as one of our 5 star class ships; she will be making a return to the Mediterranean across the ocean from spring and will be based in Rome and is showcasing already to be one of our more popular ships in the area, and then the fantastic news for us is the release of Wonder of the Seas.

She is exactly like Harmony however she will contain 8 neighbourhoods rather than 7 like Harmony and it will be for suite class so there is a demand for suite class for sure so we are adding an 8th class to accommodate this. The great news for us is that Wonder of the Seas left the ship yard recently and is now homed in another facility where, as I like to call it, is receiving that magical pixie dust, with all the fabulous features that can be experienced on Harmony and that she will be sailing out of Barcelona so it is great news that two of our new ships will be sailing out of the Mediterranean in 2022.

We also have 8 ships offering a variety of sailings out of the med in 2022 and we also have 4 ships sailing out of Alaska, with 2 of them being Quantium ships which are relatively new having joined the fleet in recent years and the Caribbean is still big for us as well.

The new ships are going to have an awful lot of choice for people so if they want a smaller sized ship or if they want one of the bigger ships, theres an option for everyone. We are also seeing some trends which is interesting as in a recent survey throughout consumers, about 50% of people said they would go on about 2 holidays next year so we believe there is some big build up demand for holidaying and cruising and thats why we’ve put so many ships in the med and for further down the years.

Also, people are going away from longer periods of time as well and they’re also looking at bucket list trips like Alaska and thats why we think as well a cruise might be gathering legs because people have always wanted to do a cruise and now they’re going to do it. Multi generational trips are also on the rise with big families going away so we are certainly seeing that for 2022.  We’re so excited these new ships are coming and our newer class ships such as more Oasis and Quantum class ships are coming as well.

Q: What is your current favourite feature onboard the Royal Caribbean fleet?

A: I think my favourite feature is an area called 270 and its on our Quantium class ships and it’s an entertainment venue. The venues is at the very back of the ships and it had floor to ceiling windows with 270 degrees views which is fantastic and it is a lovely place to sit during the day time;Right outside the door is the 270 Cafe which do lovely sandwiches, salads, tea and coffees and its lovely during the day because its so quiet time to enjoy the view, read and book and have some food.

At night it is then completely transformed as we have the biggest and best technology at sea and at land as well as screens come down over the windows and we project images onto those screens so you have that 270 view and on top of that they have 6 robotic screens so between the views and the screens of the backdrop of the venue, there are shows. The shows feature acrobats doing displays and all of it coming together is jaw dropping. 270 for sure on our Quantium class ships is by favourite.

Q: What is your favourite destination Royal Caribbean sail to?

A: The one that always catches  my eye, despite never having been, is CocoCay. So this is a private island in the Bahamas that we have and it looks incredible. We were supposed to go there just pre-covid and unfortunately that didn’t happen but it is on my bucket list; I have teenage boys and I know they would love to go.

I love the fact that the island is well developed and it looks incredible. Most of our us sailings stop there and I love that there is a chill and thrill side of the island. So if you want the thrill you go to the waterpark and you have the water slides and wave pool , and then you have the chill side with huge pool and beach activities so I get so excited when I see people there.

I think its one of our best destinations for sure and I know there are plans to have more of these private destinations as we move through time and I know they’re on the cards so I’d say CocoCay is the place for me.

Q: What are you most looking forward to in 2022 in terms of Royal Caribbean and travel in general?

A: For me, I am looking forward to going away on holiday with my family, we didn’t do anything this year just with do many destinations we couldn’t go to and we were unable to visit family abroad so getting together with family.

I think I’m also looking forward to seeing the industry coming back in Ireland , I mean they’ve had a really really tough time and there’s no denying the pandemic has made it a really hard time for them but they are an amazing industry and they really have great drive and passion and they really have a let’s succeed attitude so I’m here to support them, myself and Michelle, everything we do to support the trade and 90% of our business comes from travel agents across the island so they are really important; I want to see them getting back and I keep telling them its going to be a bumper year but i really do believe that people will be going back to the travel agents to get their bookings due to the help from travel agents so I do think the industry is going to get stronger and I’m looking forward to seeing all aspects of the trade coming back and it has been challenging but you can see the bookings coming in and they’re all being very creative on the marketing side of things as well so looking forward to this.