Travel Weeklys Cruise E-letter: April 5, 2005

GIFT CARDS, an increasingly popular sales tool in response to several lines new no-rebate policies, will be prohibited by Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises. Effective May 1, the lines will not permit agents to advertise or sell a value-add item, such as a gift card, with a specific dollar value. Lisa Bauer, Royal Caribbeans senior vice president of North America sales, said she and Celebrity Vice President of sales Dondra Ritzenthaler conducted several Webcasts with top retailers and the topic du jour [is] gift cards and value-adds, she said. She added the lines new policy is: No more Target $200 gift cards.

THE GIFT-CARD POLICY is just one of several guidelines that will be introduced by Royal Caribbean and Celebrity April 5 as they move to tighten group policies and end the Key Account Fares program. Effective May 1, the lines are limiting group blocks to 50 cabins, which can be held without a deposit; agents will be able to hold the group for 90 days before the space is recalled -- although agencies can request additional group cabins if they plan to promote a true affinity, Bauer said. The line will begin a cabin matching policy: for example, if an agency sells 20 of its allotted 50 cabins by the 90-day deadline it can continue to hold 20 additional cabins at the same rate. Key Account Fares will be replaced with a 2% override for sales on select sailings. The policies should help Royal Caribbean and Celebrity better manage inventory, Bauer said; last year 80% of the lines blocked group space was recalled because the agent didnt sell it, and agencies held onto group blocks for, on average, 303 days.

ROYAL CARIBBEAN ALSO finalized an order for a third Ultra Voyager ship, a design now known as the Freedom class. The ship will be delivered from Aker Yards in spring 2008.

THE CRYSTAL HARMONY will leave the Crystal Cruises fleet in December. The 15-year-old Harmony will move to NYK Cruises, a sister company to Crystal that caters to the Japanese market. Crystal President Gregg Michel told Travel Weekly it has begun looking at newbuild possibilities -- but he added the line is in the exploratory stages, and there is no timeline for an order.

SILVERSEAS 2005 GOAL: To be profitable, Vice President of Sales Marilyn Conroy told the cruise lines 30 top-producing retailers during the lines first awards gala, which is being held this week onboard the Silver Shadow. Conroy also detailed some internal changes, which include altering the sales staff setup and amending its commission structure to make it less confusing. In 2004, Conroy said, Silversea increased its passenger count by 16% and its average rate by 23%. We have to focus on occupancy, rates and lower acquisition costs, she said. Were on pace [in] North America to achieve our 2005 goals.

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