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Are More Internet Savvy Cruisers Booking Direct; While Others Book With Travel Agents?

Written by: Kuki

Over a decade ago, when I first began writing for CruiseMates, it seemed many of our visitors were using the site, and other cruise related web sites on the Internet, not just for content, but also for tips on how and where to find the best deals on cruises. And much of the much needed funding for these sites was coming from travel agencies advertising.
To my view there’s been a “sea change” in the time since then. Today most sites seem to be supported by the advertising income from the cruise lines themselves, or as surrogates supporting co-advertising with some of the travel agencies they do significant business with.
Much of this likely has been an effect of the flat pricing policies the cruise lines have imposed on their travel partners (the travel agents), of which I’ve railed against quite a number of times in the past; yet most travel agents seem to have grown to like. Travel agents no longer have to compete on price; or as they will say, on price alone. They’ll say they now compete on the basis of service provided.

As a consumer I thought I knew plenty of agents who competed well based on both price and service, but these days, with industry policies, that is no longer allowed.

At any rate, with my only research on the hypothesis being limited to what I’ve been able to gleam reading Internet cruise-related web sites. I think today one will find that perhaps the majority (or at the very least a growing minority) of Internet savvy users are booking directly with the cruise lines, and they are using the web sites like CruiseMates more for research on cruise related information and reviews, and, for lack of better terminology, using them like cruise related social media outlets.

They’re looking to web sites for subject content; such are reviews (including user reviews), and to “talk” to other cruisers about their experiences, looking for opinions containing specific information about ships and ports of call. And of course there are many who will use it as a soap box to voice complaints. But there’s also a growing trend to use it as a form of social media, to simply chat with people in their “affinity group” – other cruisers.

In many ways the cruise web sites message boards are simply an open, public version, unlimited characters, version of Facebook, Twitter, etc. that will likely continue to grow in that vein, as even more people become more familiar using Facebook. Twitter, and other Social Media sites.

Then there are the multitudes; those who for whatever reason don’t use the Internet much, or still won’t use it for any commerce. They may well use email and other internet functions in their work, but shy away from it for other uses. As well, there those people who simply always have and always will have others making their travel arrangements for them.

Those are the people who will always contact travel agents to book their other vacations, as well as cruises. They may not even have any idea they can pick up the telephone and call a cruise line to book their own cruise.

Of course, there’s also another group; the Internet savvy travelers who are dedicated and loyal to their travel agents, and the services they provide, and they want and rely on their travel agents to do the work, as they would, and so they don’t have to.

But the trends I see, as I have described them in this blog, are really making the cruise lines the bigger winner; with a larger and growing segment booking their cruises directly through them, and they are not paying commissions on those bookings to travel agents.

While they may not have to pay commissions to travel agents, it’s not all gravy for the cruise lines. They do have the expenses of operating call centers and paying their own “vacation planner” representatives. I have little doubt though that there is a significant saving between the cost of travel agent commissions versus the cost of providing their operating centers for their own sales representatives. Even a 3- 5% savings per transaction would represent a significant addition to the cruise lines bottom line.

I don’t believe that this has been some nefarious plan by the cruise lines to push travel agents out of the business. However, they are very smart, and though it has taken the cruise lines perhaps a decade to catch up to the Internet, they have become very savvy Internet users themselves now.

They probably saw these trends long before I did, and it seems they are certainly taking advantage of them now. It’s improbable that they’d be willing to share the figures with regards to what percentage of their bookings are now done in-house, or by how much that percentage is growing year to year. But if I were a travel agent I’d sure be curious.

- A View From the Kuki Side of Cruising -

 

 

 

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Comments

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time October 29, 2010 at 5:43 am

Perhaps 20 years ago Carnival Cruise Line announced plans for placing cruise desks in Walmart stores, for direct bookings thus cutting out the travel agent. That never happened. Imagine booking a cruise in a Walmart? Not me.

Over the past 20 years cruise lines have repeatedly, in all fairness, not all cruise lines, solicited direct bookings, thus cutting out the travel agent. Today almost all cruise lines still have a site for agents to click on.

So, with so much ado about not using a travel agent, the need for one is valid. I for one would NEVER book a cruise, or a vacation package without using my travel agent. Heres why:

Aside from better prices, I DO CHECK prices at various web sites, and I always get a better price from my agent. He will sort out any problem or possible headaches that may arise, and correct them for me. I would not want to have to sort it out myself, nor, should I.

I have the air booked by the cruise line, they know if I am stuck in an airport and may not be able to catch the ship, thus, they can either hold the ship (believe it or not, THE BETTER cruise lines will), OR, they will get me to the next port, and give me a hotel room if needed. I used the term BETTER to sort out better, from the worst, and believe me, just read the ship reviews, it is not difficult to see what a good is from the worst, thus making the best BETTER. Glitches can happen, with any booking, however.

These are my thoughts, and experiences, as a cruise traveler for 40 years. I have never had a problem pre or post cruise that my travel agent could not deal with. Thank you, Mark.

I always book transfers to/from ship with the cruise line via my travel agent. This way the cost is not an issue, and you know tht you are going to get to the ship or airport.

Comment from Rob Holloway
Time February 26, 2011 at 11:02 pm

I guess I’m the exception as I’m very much Internet and Computer knowledgable and except for direct air flights with no stopovers will always use my Travel Agent.
First my TA has never charged me a fee for booking a cruise and only if I booked thru her a flight only would I pay a fee.
Second , my travel invoice cost is covered by the Association and Province my TA’s company resides in. So , if the cruise line went broke or Airline went broke or both stopped operations during ny trip , am able to get my monies back eventually.
A lot of Web business though are registered somewhere else or act as a third party so you loose those monies.
The cruise line agent will not watch for the price changing as the date nears or the airflight price changes.
The same Web agent will not help me if I get sick in another country.
Yes, I use web cruise sites for info and sharing including research.

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