For agents, olive branches from MSC and Celebrity

By Tom Stieghorst
*Insight There’s a competition of sorts underway for the goodwill of travel agents, and two cruise lines last week upped the ante.

First, MSC Cruises said it will begin paying 5% commission on all the extra-charge cruise activities that can be prebooked through travel agents.

Then Celebrity Cruises announced that for June it will pay commission on what would normally be the noncommissionable fare, or NCF, for 2015 cruises that meet certain conditions.

These two developments are notable because they involve tangible compensation for travel agents, not amenity points or tour conductor credits or other types of reward. They involve cash payments that cruise lines will make to agents when commissions are settled.*TomStieghorst

They’re also notable because they address hot-button issues that many travel agents feel aggrieved about.

NCFs are perceived in some circles as arbitrary and mysterious deductions from what an agent can and should be earning for selling a cruise. To get paid the full amount of a cruise sale for even a month is an experience that many agents might want to try.

Likewise, the absence of commission at most cruise lines on things like spa treatments and shore excursions rankles many agents who feel they could be earning more for both their suppliers and their agencies if only those items were commissionable.

To be clear, MSC has paid commission for a decade on shore excursions, cruise airfares and several other items. It has extended that to all cruise revenue opportunities as part of its bid to broaden its beachhead in North America.

There are hedges around these offers. The Celebrity holiday on NCF withholding is only for a month, and only applies to veranda-level cabins or higher. Also, the commissions can only be earned by North American agents.

At MSC, the new commissions are 5% compared to the 10%-15% ticket commission, and the Mediterranean specialist, with its one big, new ship, the MSC Divina, has a limited North American presence.

Still, any agent who has griped about either of these two problems in the past has to be at least a little heartened that two cruise lines are paying attention to what really matters to agents: dollars and cents.

Said Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity sales vice president, “It’s a way we can say thank you in a very authentic way, because it’s not only saying thank you, but it’s doing something financial for them, as well.”
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