Booking your first cruise can be a very complicated process - we are here to help
Former president of Carnival Cruise Lines, Bob Dickinson, is the man who helped to make Carnival the most successful cruise line in history. He coined the term "cruise virgin" as the person who has never taken his first cruise. The term is especially appropriate because most people who cruise once will return to do it again and again.
Unfortunately for the cruise industry, the number of people choosing to try their first cruise has dropped significantly in the last few years. There are a number of reasons; including the unfortunate incidents that happened on cruise ships and made the news in a bad way. Although such mishaps are actually rare statistically, these events were used and abused by the media for ratings. It is well-known that the "poop cruise" was one of the biggest viewership bonanzas CNN ever had. Comedians, columnists and cynics in general are never far behind when it comes to this type of story.
Carnival Corp. recently re-contracted Bob Dickinson to return for just one year as a consultant to re-examine the state of marketing and relationships with travel agents. His observations and recommendations have been highly anticipated. It is well-known that getting a person to take their first cruise is the hardest but most important sale, because people who try one cruise will generally return to cruise again and again. Dickinson said the industry has been relying too much on Repeat cruisers, solely because they are considered the "low hanging fruit" of cruise sales.
Behind the scenes, many professional travel agents had moved away from cruise sales and started selling a greater percentage of package tours and all-inclusive resort vacations, mostly because these deals have the airfare, gratuities and beverages included in the purchase price. Alternatively, most mainstream and even premium cruise lines do not pay a travel agent for what their customer spends on airfare, gratuities, beverages or shore tours during the cruise. The only commission they offer is for the cost of the actual cruise. In industry parlance they are NCFs, for non-commissionable fees. Remember, travel agents are always paid by the travel supplier and not the customer.
Those other items are charged separately by the airline or by the cruise line depending on what the customer spends on board (gratuities, shore tours, beverages and other specialty items) – which means the agents earn a smaller commissions.
Changes Coming to Cruise Commissions
As a result, in just the last two weeks two different cruise lines have announced that they will now pay larger commissions to travel agents who sell their cruise ships. What they are doing is offering to pay commission on the non-commissionable fees (NCFs).
How does this affect you, the cruise consumer, especially if you are a “cruise virgin?” In theory, an honest travel agent will always suggest the most suitable cruise line and ship to the cruise buyer. After all, your satisfaction means repeat business for future cruise sales, which are always much easier to conclude than the first cruise sale. However, there is always the possibility that a travel agent will push the cruise line that is paying the higher commission - even if he doesn't truly believe that is the best cruise line for the customer.
Should you be worried about that? No, but you should be aware of it, so you know the ways to avoid the problem.
First, since it is the first cruise if you are sold a cruise ship you do not like you will not become a repeat customer. Knowing that keeps the cruise agent motivated to keep your satisfaction as his first concern. But here is what he fears - many cruise customers go to different travel agents for the following cruises because they now know much more about the cruise booking process.
I would like to make a suggestion – if you were happy with your travel agent for the first cruise then reward the hard work they put in and go back to them for the follow up cruise. That is, unless you truly did not think the ship was suitable for you and you feel the travel agent could have done a better job.
The Customer/Agent Relationship
I know that there are many very good travel agents who truly care about giving you the best service in all cases. The only task is to find one. I highly recommend that you consult friends and our forums of avid cruise enthusiasts. Ask people to suggest a ship for you. Ideally, if the agents are all doing their jobs they should come to something of a consensus about the cruise line, the size of ship, the type of stateroom and the length of your cruise. If people come up with unexpected suggestions then ask them to explain why a different cruise line might be better for you.
Then come back to our CruiseMates forums and I promise we will be honest with you. Tell us your story and what was recommended to you by the various cruise agents you consulted – and we will tell you which agent was giving you the best service in our opinion. Remember, there is a perfect cruise line for everyone but no two cruise lines are exactly alike. Cruising is a fantastic vacation value. Our goal is to get you started.