Agent Issues It frequently doesn’t pay to sell cruises, agents complain By Nadine Godwin / September 15, 2009 Share 1 -- LAS VEGAS — Costa CEO Maurice Zarmati guaranteed agent support "until I retire and until you retire" at ASTA's Retail Leadership Summit, but travel agency executives argued that it's not enough.Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Franchise Group, complained that non-commissionable fees (NCFs) make profitability a challenge. Block said there has been a severe drop in agency compensation as a percentage of customer dollars spent, particularly in a year of greatly discounted cruises. He said NCFs can amount to more than half the cruise price, results that are "out of whack.""Our folks are worried about putting food on the table. Dang it, we have to make a living," Block said.NCFs are a cost of doing business and should be commissionable, too, Block argued. Meanwhile, Block said agents make more on land tours than on cruises, a reverse from a decade ago. John Lovell of Breton Village Travel Services in Grand Rapids, Mich., said he can earn twice the income on a land tour. “Can I afford to push the cruise product?” he asked cruise executives at the summit.Zarmati said he would like NCFs to go away, but they won’t. He said the fees aren't commissionable because they are pass-through charges. Zarmati added that he wants to help agents by raising commissions to 17% if they sign up for Costa’s educational program. A higher commission rate on low-priced cruises doesn’t matter, countered Block. "The dollars earned per sale have to be a livable wage," he said.Vacation.com CEO Steve Tracas voiced displeasure about cruise lines' failure to protect commissions when prices fall after initial sales are made. Zarmati responded that "Wall Street and Micky Arison would hang me up" if Costa provided commission protection after reducing prices.Ken Muskat, Royal Caribbean International’s vice president of sales, said commission protection "would be great but we can’t do that." Royal Caribbean is trying to address the problem by providing upgrades or onboard credits instead of reducing prices, he said.When clients want a cruise, travel agents are searching for ways to make a profit, such as selling third-party shore excursions or pushing river cruises, Tracas said. Block said travel agencies can double income by selling commissionable shore excursions.Group shore excursions are commissionable at Costa and Royal Caribbean if they are booked before departure. Muskat said if Royal Caribbean paid agents for individual shore excursions, tour prices would be uncompetitive. Zarmati said he hopes to make individual shore excursions commissionable in six months once he has the software to manage the process.