With the holidays over, many people all over North America are gazing out their windows at the icy weather beyond with one thought in mind: Get me out of here.
That’s why this week marks the start of the three-month high season in the cruise industry.
The industry generates about $40 billion a year in the U.S. economy, and it has continued to grow over the long term.
At Royal Caribbean’s Wichita, Kan., contact center, the frequency of calls shifted into high gear on Monday, becoming more or less nonstop. While the callers are looking to get away, there will be no scheduled vacations for the staff until April.
But the center, in big tropical-colored aqua and yellow buildings, is different from five years ago.
For a decade after it opened in 1998, it was Royal Caribbean’s second contact center after Miami, and as the company grew, the number of employees in Wichita peaked at close to 700.
In 2008, the company built a new contact center in Springfield, Ore. The company switched the Wichita call center to its smaller Celebrity Cruises brand and began to shift business to its new center.
Today there are 325 employees in Wichita, almost all of whom are dedicated to Celebrity Cruises. Celebrity’s 11 ships offer higher-end, more adult-oriented service than the Royal Caribbean branded ships. Celebrity cruises tend to be longer, the entertainment and food better, the level of service higher and the travelers older and better-heeled.
Europe is the most common destination, ahead of the Caribbean. Alaska is third. But the company also cruises to the Galapagos Islands, Hawaii, New England and Canada, Bermuda, South America, Australia and Asia, as well as through the Panama Canal.
The majority of employees at the call center deal with agents at online or large traditional travel agencies, rather than individuals.
During the three-month high season, the center averages 10,000 calls a day and will book 50,000 trips.
The cruise industry is still suffering from overcapacity, which means good deals, said Vincent Alesia, director of trade support and service for Celebrity.
“This is really a good opportunity to book a cruise,” Alesia said. “Even if there aren’t big discounts, there are lot of amenities thrown in. There’s great value.”
Amy Currier is very good at her job, winning the center’s employee-of-the-year award for 2012.
She is a member of the company’s star desk, which handles the best accounts.
She deals almost exclusively with a limited number of large travel agencies, mostly online.
Last week, her days were relatively leisurely, with a minute or so between calls. But that changed this week.
“There’s no down time during high season,” she said.
In one call, a travel agent had booked a trip across the Pacific but the Royal Caribbean reservation system wouldn’t allow him to use the company’s popular 1-2-3-Go promotion.
A quick check by Currier revealed that particular cruise was a repositioning trip, moving a ship to a seasonal base in Asia, rather than a regular cruise. The promotion didn’t apply.
She relayed the bad news to the agent.
“Oof, OK,” the agent said, then paused. “I’ll have to go back to the client and tell them this.”
Currier was smooth, responsive and always polite. The agents she deals with are usually the same.
“At least in theory,” she said.
There is a gym in the basement, and the company runs a variety of events and activities to keep employees’ energy levels up.
Morale among the staff is good, Alesia said.
“Think about what they are selling,” he said. “We’re selling someone’s dream.”