Travel Agents and Cruise Lines
Written by: Kuki
To begin to describe the relationship between the cruise lines and travel agents, the first thing for a consumer to know is there is “normally” NO charge to the consumer to use the services of a travel agent when booking a cruise.
They are paid by the cruise lines from the revenues for your cruise fare, and that fare does NOT go up because you are booking a travel agent.
One may run into the rare travel agent who charges a service fee, or the rare agency which will charge a booking fee, and will only offer a credit on a future booking upon cancellation, rather than a full refund. However, both those situations are indeed quite rare (and avoidable- run).
Several years ago, the cruise lines instituted “flat pricing policies” (meaning travel agents could no longer discount prices for cruises by reducing their commissions-essentially giving customers kickbacks from the agency profits). The cruise lines insisted this move was initiated at the bequest of the larger travel agent community.
At the time, and several times since, I wrote a number of articles, warning, while it was a move detrimental to consumers, it was also a “careful what you ask for” scenario for travel agents.
On one level of thinking it made sense for many of the smaller travel agencies to request this move, as they were having some difficulties competing for customers with the “large discounters”. However, my arguement against the move was that it would lead to more and more people booking directly with the cruise lines… which I believe has proven to be the case.
From the first perspective of the smaller travel agents who lobbied for the changes, it might seem that the system has worked. The large discounters have virtually disappeared, or are finding different methods to compete, rather than on lower prices alone.
However, I believe it has also had quite a negative impact on the business travel agents do for a number of reasons.
1. Though wrong, many people looking to book cruises have the perspective that it will cost them more to book through a travel agent.
2. Along the way, the cruise lines have developed very sizeable, significant, and sophisticated marketing and sales departments, to encourage people to book directly with the cruise lines.
From a business perspective it makes sense that that the cruise lines like it when customers book directly with them, rather than travel agents. Though they, of course, have to pay their own sales force, those costs are less than the commissions they pay to travel agents which come directly from the fares consumers pay.
And, of course, the cruise lines sales teams sell only the cruise lines for which they work, as oppposed to travel agents, who service customers as best they can to place them on a variety of cruise lines which, together, they determine is best suited for them.
Now, in the latest move American Express Travel ( which a variety of travel agency consortiums and companies are affiliated with) have ended their “Preferred Supplier” relationship with Carnival Cruise Line.
Their stated reason for the decison : “With some of Carnival Cruise Lines’ recent policy decisions, many of the components that comprise a preferred supplier relationship with American Express are no longer present, including a drop in agent commissions”.
It seems many travel agents associated with American Express Travel are unhappy with policy changes and indeed even changes in marketing “suggesting” customers simply call Carnival Cruise Line, rather than directing them to call their travel agents.
To date, this is the only cruise line taking the steps described. But I think one has to believe, like many strategic decisions made in the cruise industry, if the industry perceives Carnival’s moves as successful, many other cruise lines will follow suit.
As consumers we might think, “it makes no difference to me, as long as the price to me doesn’t change”.
However, I believe there are ramifications possible, that affect much more than price, because there are many other factors that also affect your cruise experience; particulary unitiated, first time and less experienced cruisers.
I have no problem with experienced cruisers, who know their own preferences very well, booking directly with their cruise line of choice. I understand many of those people feel they then have direct control over their booking, and like what that represents.
However, for the less initated, choosing and booking a cruise is a fairly comlicated process; what with choosing ship, itinerary, cabin types, cabin locations, dining choices, etc. , etc., etc.
My largest caveat against booking directly with a cruise line is a warning in the event something in the process goes wrong.
If you’ve booked directly with a cruise line sales representative, when a problem arises, they are working FOR the cruise line. That does not translate well to looking after the customer’s interests to seek resolution.
If you’ve booked through a good, trained, cruise specialist you have someone to represent your interests, and take your position to the cruise line.
With all of that said, not all travel agents are created equal. For the consumer it is imperative to research, look for recommendations, and interview perspective travel agents BEFORE you book.
There are many professional, knowledgable, and incredibly helpful cruise travel agents available, and there are also some who’s only concerns are selling you a cruise.
It is your job to ask questions, and find one of the many good ones, and if successful you’ll reap many benefits for your work… and rather than cost you extra, it’s most likely to save you from unsatisfying, or costly stumbles and mistakes.
- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising -
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Posted: February 26th, 2013 under Kuki.