The recent controversy over Royal Caribbean’s “Royal Champions” program has certainly inspired debate on Cruise Critic and elsewhere over the past week. Offering answers and clarity is Bill Hayden, Royal Caribbean’s associate vice president of marketing, who talked with Cruise Critic Editor in Chief, Carolyn Brown, on Tuesday.

Question: What are the Royal Champions?

Bill Hayden: The idea that inspired Royal Champions came as we were brainstorming ideas for the launch of Liberty of the Seas. We went through the usual list of people who attend our ship unveilings – travel agents, cruise writers, high-level Crown & Anchor members – and thought about expanding outreach to a small group of travelers who were particularly passionate about and prolific in sharing information about cruising.

Question: How are Royal Champions selected?

Hayden: We engaged a company called Nielsen Buzz Metrics to go out and, using a general profile (with criteria that, as already noted, included being passionate about cruising in general), but that also included experienced Royal Caribbean travelers, and, in general, people who were helpful in sharing online their experiences, insights and advice with fellow passengers. Nielsen Buzz Metrics came back with a list. The list was not limited to Cruise Critic by any stretch; it included folks who post frequently in other communities and who write blogs. We didn’t pick Cruise Critic -- the data showed us where to go. Other sites included TripAdvisor and various Usenet boards.

What we did then with the various communities was, in respect for peoples’ privacy, ask community managers if they’d mind asking the posters and bloggers that were discovered by Nielsen Buzz Metrics if we could contact them.

Question: What do Royal Champions do?

Hayden: This group, which started out with about 50 participants and now has grown to 75, is involved on several levels. First, they engage in passionate discourse on all-things cruising, just as they have always done. As well, they’re definitely part of an informal focus network – we run information and ideas by them, ask for feedback. A couple of examples: we asked some Royal Champions to give us input as we were designing our new “nation of why not” website. We invited some Royal Champions to attend an Oasis of the Seas event in New York (in June, 2008, we showcased developments such as the boardwalk, royal promenade, Central Park and the loft suites). Some traveled to New York, Los Angeles or Miami for two-night pre-inaugural cruises.

When we were testing out an early version of a social networking site of our own, we invited the Royal Champions to log in, take a look at it and send comments, and we’ve really taken the input to heart. It’s important to note that when travel is involved, Royal Champions pay their own costs for transportation and hotel.

Question: Can Royal Champions be removed from the program if posts are negative or infrequent?

Hayden: Categorically -- never. After we have an event, we look at various places where Royal Champions might be writing and blogging to see what we can learn from them. To learn if we need to make changes. We have never, ever contacted anyone about anything that they’ve posted and we never will. We have identified them as enthusiastic but they are more than welcome to say anything they want and that won’t affect their ongoing status. I feel very comfortable saying never.

Question: Do you pay Cruise Critic for its participation in the Royal Champions program?

Hayden: We have not in any way compensated Cruise Critic for its participation in this program. And let me make this clear: Cruise Critic didn’t actually really participate in the program other than to pass on a message from us and obtain permission for Royal Caribbean to contact the members that were identified via our research project. This approach applies to the other web sites and blog sites that we reached out to.

******End of Q&A With Bill Hayden of RCI**************

Note from Cruise Critic Community Manager:

In light of questions over messages deleted from Royal Champion’s-oriented threads, please take a reminder look at our community guidelines ( This should clear up any issues, specifically, about why some posts were removed yesterday. As Cecilia mentioned, and I later confirmed, posts were removed because they contained large blocks of copyrighted material lifted from other sites ( In addition, the threads contained harassment, flaming and posts created to humiliate and/or cast members in a less than favorable light were too numerous to clear out (

It appears to us that some believe that Cruise Critic removes negative postings from the boards when asked to do so by a cruise line. This couldn't be farther from the truth. And, you can all rest assured that we have never once entertained a request of this nature. We do, however, as noted above, remove postings that do not abide by our community guidelines and at times entire threads if they contain too many community guideline violations.

Finally, our message board policies have never been open to discussion on the cruise forums. This has been in place since the day we opened our doors here on the "web"; and is also clearly stated in our guidelines. We have always asked that you contact us for information, and we will continue to do so in the future.

One more piece of information I was asked to share with you all comes directly from the PR Department, verbatim, at Royal Caribbean:
"..the only thing I would like to add is that it would be very helpful to reiterate that this is totally separate from our loyalty program and that being a Royal Champion is in no way tied to the number of Royal Caribbean cruises a person has taken."

Good night,
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