FORT LAUDERDALE — Travel agents were surprised when Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity Cruises' senior vice president of sales, and Joni Rein, Carnival Cruise Line's vice president of worldwide sales, exchanged fire about direct-sales policies during a panel at Travel Weekly’s CruiseWorld conference last week.
Rein suggested Ritzenthaler was being dishonest with audience members when Ritzenthaler said that Celebrity and its sister brands, Royal Caribbean International and Azamara Club Cruises, don’t have a direct-sales strategy.
Such an exchange was clearly premeditated, since Rein had in her lap a copy of Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.’s 10-K filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which she said contradicted Ritzenthaler.
Ritzenthaler had said, "We really do not have a direct strategy. We do have a very small organization that if someone chooses to come in that way we take it, but we do not have a direct strategy."
Rein responded, "Carnival takes considerable amount of heat for having a direct model. I did note today that all of our panelists have a similar model, but [Ritzenthaler] has chosen to say that the Royal Caribbean family of brands does not have that strategy. I say that not to be combative, but we are all doing the same thing."
A Royal Caribbean executive later said that the 10-K filing only said that Royal Caribbean accepted direct bookings. But the executive insisted the brands did not have a concerted direct-sales strategy.
A copy of the 10-K filing reads, "We have certified vacation planners in our call centers … offering cruise planning expertise and personal attention for direct bookings. Direct booking channels for Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises are available through our Internet sites. ... Guests can also book their cruise vacations onboard our ships. We continue to experience an increase in the use of our Internet sites and other direct booking channels as a source of our overall bookings."
Rein was prepared, according to insiders, because the exchange was precipitated by other comments that RCCL executives have made in recent months to agents suggesting that "other lines" were more focused on direct sales.
Click here to read a letter to the editor from Dondra Ritzenthaler that clarifies Celebrity's position on direct cruise sales.