Carnival Conversations 2014: Civility trumps confrontation

By Tom Stieghorst
Cahill - Carnival ConversationMIAMI — Carnival Conversations, the road show where travel agents can question senior Carnival Cruise Lines managers, is likely to be less heated this year judging by the first two sessions.

Mike Julius, the line’s senior managing director of U.S. sales, said that at the kick-off event in Jacksonville, Fla., in February, many questions dealt with how agents could do more business with Carnival.

The second Carnival Conversation, held on the Carnival Ecstasy here last week, drew about 100 Miami-area agents, who had issues but didn’t seem as hostile toward the industry’s biggest brand as those who attended a summer 2013 meeting on the Carnival Victory.

At nearly a dozen meetings with agents last year, Julius recalled, “We got maimed in Miami, chided in Charleston and took a lickin’ in Louisiana. But this year we’re hearing a lot of good feedback.”

Julius said he took the less querulous tone as a sign that Carnival’s outreach over the last 10 months had hit home. Also, the general mood has brightened with an improving economy and no negative news events. “It’s a little opposite of what we were experiencing last year,” he said.

Carnival Cruise Lines CEO Gerry Cahill told the group there had been a significant improvement in opinions about Carnival within the travel community. But agents still had some nits to pick.

Alex Sanchez, a Cruise Planners agent in Miami Lakes, complained about the 45 minutes it took to change the name on a reservation on GoCCL, the line’s agent portal.

“We know that it is far from perfect, and we are continuing to assess all those pain points that are out there and continuing to make improvements,” responded Vicky Rey, vice president of guest services.

Arnaldo Busutil of Marvel Travel in Miami wanted to know if there were any commission changes in the works. “Carnival is my top-selling product, and it’s not my highest commission,” he said.

Lynn Torrent, Carnival’s executive vice president of sales, said there were no current plans to change the base commission structure.

Sanchez also pleaded for longer cruises to sell. Carnival has recently launched some 10-day cruises between Galveston and San Juan.

But Neal Kirk, the cruise line’s vice president of U.S. trade sales, said one challenge Carnival faced in that regard was the unwillingness of guests to pay for one-way air on such open-jaw itineraries.

Follow Tom Stieghorst on Twitter @tstravelweekly. 
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