Charlie Funk
Charlie Funk

It was January 2002, and the retail travel sales channel was reeling from the attacks of 9/11. Agencies were closing, merging or selling their business everywhere one looked.

Yet, compared with the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of 9/11 on the channel pales in significance in many ways. After 9/11, sales dropped 25%, or even 35%, but I dare say more than a few agencies would welcome that in comparison to the 75% or 85% decrease they have experienced in 2020.

Many observers believe recovery in leisure travel, especially in the cruise space, will not occur substantially until six months after an effective vaccine is announced and accepted by the general population of the nation. Some believe that recovery might begin as early as April, still others feel August is more likely.

Frankly, the retail channel at all levels has done better by far than I expected, due in great part to the PPP loan program. Another round of federal aid is needed in 2020, and the sooner the better.

Cruise lines universally agree that they need a robust retail channel to help meet pent-up demand that most agree lies dormant just behind the vaccine (or herd immunity) door. That said, responsible cruise line executives almost certainly have contingency plans in place to deal with varying levels of decimation in the channel.

All have crafted plans to assist retailers large and small with commission protection on supplier-canceled reservations, incentives to use with clients to minimize refunds and more.

The recent trend to require cruise ship passengers to use only cruise line excursion providers will punish midsize retailers who have developed decent profit centers for third-party excursion and tour operators. Cruise lines that restrict shore excursions and other ancillary activities to their brand should pay retailers a commission on those same products as recognition of the contribution the retailer makes.

CLIA has worked diligently to secure permission from the CDC to resume sailing from U.S. ports. Royal Caribbean Group and Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings formed a Healthy Sail Panel to analyze the entire issue and formulate a plan to resume sailing sooner rather than later. I feel confident that retailers are grateful.

According to information I gathered, there are 15,000 CLIA associate member agencies, and an additional 25,000 are advisor associate members. CLIA, I suggest, has a responsibility to those associates to act on their behalf. I am calling on CLIA to wield its persuasive powers on senators and members of Congress to bring Senate bill S-3814 and House resolution H.R. 7481 to a vote, and soon.

This legislation, collectively called the Restart Act, will provide the financial lifeline that travel retailers so desperately need. Unlike the PPP program that provided funds based on payroll, Restart determines need based on revenue decline. Smaller companies will fare better than very large companies, and the forgiveness for smaller businesses will be greater than for larger agencies.

It's like this: CLIA success in getting these bills passed will do far more for the retail channel than any other program that any cruise line has put forth. If it hasn't already, it must begin lobbying for these bills in a timely manner to assure it has the needed retail channel in place when cruising finally can resume.

Charlie and Sherrie Funk own Just Cruisin' Plus in Brentwood, Tenn., and have provided agent and agency-owner training throughout North America on every facet of travel agency operations. They are members of the CLIA Hall of Fame.

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