My most recent column ("Doing something about 'It's always something!'" March 28) stimulated a number of emails reinforcing the theme, mentioning a few things I left out and in the main telling me clearly that the most glaring "something" I left out was supplier hold times. I didn't have a space large enough to touch on this subject in that column, and Travel Weekly has since written about it, but I'll address it now.
Indeed, it has been maddening for suppliers as they sought to restaff their call centers to handle a torrent of calls. Many of the very fine employees laid off by suppliers found it necessary to seek employment elsewhere as it became apparent that cruising would recover more slowly than anyone wished.
The result has been that many of the cruise line reservation agents advisors are speaking with are not as experienced as had once been the case. Some are in offshore call centers; I have asked some where they are located, and among the answers have been Jamaica and the Philippines.
Booking cruises requires quite a high knowledge level; it is difficult for newly hired staff to learn how to navigate the complex booking engines, even when the caller is a highly skilled retail agent with specific ship, sail date and accommodation requests and who may even tell the res agent exactly where to look.
Add to that a coterie of retailers who need their collective hands held in drilling down to the correct product and accommodation or who refuse to use web-based tools, and the situation becomes intolerable quickly. Hold times of up to eight hours, only to have the call dropped, have led to Facebook posts that clearly express the frustration and anger involved.
The old business adage that time is money is true. With apologies -- deep apologies -- to Meredith Willson, "We got trouble, right here in Reservation City, with a capital T and that rhymes with C and that stands for Call Hold Times ... ."
Couple that with sometimes marginal connection quality and a portion of the retail base that may have difficulty understanding accented English, and challenges multiply.
I am persuaded that every travel supplier is doing everything they can to get retail advisor call times under control. Very often the solutions they're implementing involve web-based platforms. It is incumbent on all retailers to adopt these tools and for owners/managers to insist staff use them.
There are also many booking tools developed by consortia and host agencies that are very capable. During my days at Just Cruisin' Plus, we were members of the Travel Leaders Network, and I found its agent-facing booking tool to be excellent. Members can access any preferred cruise line and find any cruise that meets the sort criteria, including travel dates, length of travel, brands and vessels, as well as desired originating port and more. Those advisor members who also subscribe to Tres Technologies or Agent Mate can push client data upstream, make a booking and pull it downstream into the database, often in less time than it takes to navigate a phone-in menu.
Most large cruise companies offer exceptionally powerful online platforms that assist with bookings and also enable the agent to resolve all but the most complicated issues quickly and easily.
I have done a disservice to suppliers of late by suggesting that an increase in direct bookings explained why hold times were so long. In fact, recent earnings reports by major cruise lines suggest to me that, not only are direct bookings not up but in fact may be down marginally. I wouldn't be surprised if it turns out that's because consumers who have called in directly encounter the same time-wasting hold times that we professionals do, and when that occurs, they hang up in frustration and call a travel advisor to avoid wasting more time.
It's like this: Travel suppliers are doing all they can to get call centers back in operation to match 2019 levels, but it can't be done overnight. The onus is on the travel professionals who could use the online booking tools but take what I would call the lazy approach by defaulting to the phone rather than learning how to use the tools provided by suppliers.