Royal Caribbean’s 5 yr. partnership with the World Wildlife Fund will see it contribute $5 million to the organization and attempt a series of sustainability goals.
The partnership lies at the intersection of 2 trends sweeping the industry of late: high-profile partnerships and corporate humanitarianism.
With Norwegian offering Jimmy Buffet and Princess partnering with the Discovery Channel - and with every cruise line trying to position itself as environmentally responsible and worker-friendly - Royal’s announcement comes as perhaps the strongest manifestation of these combined ethos.
“It’s a never-ending battle,” said Royal CEO Richard Fain in regards to environmental issues at Royal Caribbean. “We are dramatically better than we were 5 years ago. We will be dramatically better 5 years from today.”
That’s when RCCL is scheduled to complete its 1st set of WWF co-developed sustainability goals, in the areas of greenhouse gas emissions, sustainably farmed fish and low-ecological-footprint tourism. Fain calls these goals “measurable and reportable,” and RCCL V.P. & Global Chief Communications Officer Rob Ziegler also emphasized their transparency, saying this is why the WWF is involved.
“The WWF’s currency is trust,” Ziegler said. “When you get them involved, the public knows there is a certain legitimacy to the proceedings.”
RCCL was careful to keep anything that reeked of self-interest away from the message, with Fain saying that promoting the partnership is the “least tangible” of the goals. Nevertheless, it’s clear that RCCL had a few groups in mind when it linked arms with the WWF.
A very important one is its Filipino crew members. RCCL contributed $200,000 to fund WWF-managed whale shark eco-tourism in Donsol, Philippines, despite the fact that its ships will likely never stop there. “The largest single nationality that Royal Caribbean employs around the world is Filipinos,” said Fain. “This is something our employees are expecting of us.”
On the heels of the WWF announcement came news that Royal Caribbean plans to increase the number of Filipinos it employs from 11,000 to 30,000, in order to meet the staffing demands of its 9 new-builds. “We want to make sure that Royal Caribbean is the company of choice for Filipinos so that we can choose the best talent in the hiring process,” said Fain.
The 2nd group Royal has in mind is cruisers. “We polled passengers,” said Ziegler, “and asked them ‘if there was one charitable area you would like to see Royal Caribbean be involved in, what would it be?’ And the overwhelming response - more than 60% - was in conservation of the oceans.”
In addition to hearing about Royal Caribbean’s sustainability initiatives, passengers can expect a WWF channel on Royal Caribbean TVs, WWF branding and the occasional onboard WWF representative. Celebrity and Azamara passengers will have opportunities to get involved as well.
Fain indicated that the move was not about directly increasing revenue, but about generating environmental goodwill. And he says agents will play a significant role in that. “First of all, travel agents are the experts on cruises. So, people come to them for advice on all aspects of their vacation, more so than in other areas of tourism. And that’s important to us. I think the travel agents would be explaining that the cruise lines are working hard [at preserving the oceans]. I would hope that they would use this as an example of what a committed company can do, and what committed guests can do. And that cruise companies can make a difference going forward.”
With a younger generation of travellers coming up, the RCCL executives believe environmental stewardship will play an ever-bigger role in corporate reputation. “Millennials in particular have high environmental standards for their companies,” said Ziegler. “We are aware of this, and are working hard to show that this is very much in our DNA.”