Agents busy rebooking Premier clients

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NEW YORK -- Travel agents said they're quickly finding space for former Premier passengers on other cruise lines, a few of which are offering incentives to pick up the business.

Steve Cosgrove, owner of Dynamic Travel in South Lake, Texas, and a former member of Premier's agent advisory board, said several factors are making the rebooking process easier, including the time of year -- fall is traditionally cruising's slowest period.

"This would have been worse if it were April and we were trying to rebook passengers for summer cruises," said Cosgrove.

Fall also has the lowest rates of the year. As a result, said Cosgrove, Premier passengers have been receptive to re-booking on other lines.

"The majority of these passengers are price-conscious anyway," he said.

Carnival Cruise Lines was among the earliest to contact agents with passengers booked on Premier in the wake of the company's demise. Carnival representatives e-mailed Carnival sellers to offer assistance in rebooking Premier passengers on Sept. 14, the same day Premier suspended operations.

Carnival acted quickly because "Premier was doing itineraries that are similar to ours," said Carnival president Bob Dickinson.

Princess is offering credits of up to $200 per person on 15 Caribbean cruises aboard Dawn Princess and Ocean Princess. Premier passengers with deposits of up to $400 can have that amount applied to seven 12-, 14- and 15-day cruises to the Orient, Australia and South America aboard Regal Princess and Royal Princess.

"We understand the disappointment facing Premier passengers in light of recent developments," said Dean Brown, executive vice president of sales, marketing and customer service. "We hope to give them the opportunity to continue their vacation plans."

Norwegian Cruise line's field sales force is offering some incentives to agents who rebook clients on NCL, but the offers do not include price breaks.

A spokesman said, "We are generally offering sailings on similar dates at our current rates."

Disney Cruise Line, the arch rival of Premier's family-oriented Big Red Boat operation at Port Canaveral, has not extended any special offers to former Premier passengers, said company spokesman Mark Jaronsky.

"We don't want to appear as though we would try to take advantage of the situation," he said. Disney's bookings have been strong for the fall, he added, so it's difficult to tell how many bookings are coming from former Premier passengers.

Royal Caribbean isn't offering across-the-board incentives, either. "We are receiving some calls from people previously booked on Premier; mostly for cruises departing from Port Canaveral," said spokesman Michael Sheehan.

He said Premier's failure "hasn't had any effect on our prices or rates," adding that "Premier's fleet made up about 3% of the North American market. The impact of their [absence] is very marginal."

For the longer term, however, Carnival's Dickinson said the absence of Premier's 7,000-plus berths from the cruise marketplace will help curb discounting. "It certainly won't hurt pricing, and it should stabilize it," he said. "With the financial situation they were in, Premier's pricing strategy was certainly disruptive."

Cosgrove said he and his fellow agents are "going to notice they're gone because the lead-in cruise prices will be higher." He added that Premier will also be missed as a low-price option when compared with other types of vacations.

"Premier gave us a product to compete against [land] charter packages to Las Vegas and Cancun," said Cosgrove. "It was a great teaser product to get people to try cruising because of the low price.

When we send people to the Caribbean from this part of the country, the air fare is as much as the cruise."

Another party expected to miss Premier is Port Canaveral, Fla., home base for the line's Big Red Boat. It was Premier's popularity with cruise vacationers that helped Port Canaveral become the second-largest port in cruising.

"This is a loss for our community because Premier has been an anchor at Port Canaveral," said Port Authority chairman Joe Matheny. "Our concern is with those whose jobs and businesses will be adversely affected."

Still unclear, however, is whether other cruise lines will seek to fill the void at the port. "It's too early to tell if we will deploy more ships in Port Canaveral," said Tim Gallagher, a Carnival spokesman. "We know [Premier] was selling pretty much on a price basis at the port. We have to wait to see what the impact of their absence will be."

Process set for refunds to customers

WASHINGTON -- Greenwich Insurance Co., which is establishing a process for compensating Premier customers, will post refund information on the Federal Maritime Commission's Web site, located at www.fmc.gov, Sept.22 or Sept. 25, the FMC said.

Claimants should keep their original documents but send high-quality copies via certified mail, said Curt Ohlsson, an FMC insurance examiner.

Refunds will not be affected if Premier seeks bankruptcy protection from creditors, said Ohlsson. Premier is required to notify the FMC if such an action takes place, he said.

Ohlsson said Premier's refunds could be the largest in the 34-year history of FMC's bond program.

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