By Michael Milligan and Laura Del Rosso
ravel agents are resigned that
Princess will link up with either Royal Caribbean or Carnival but
are divided over which scenario they prefer.
For some agents, the possibility of Princess becoming part of
Carnival Corp. is a "scary" prospect, as one agent put it, because
it expands Carnival's already powerful position in the cruise
On the other hand, a takeover by Royal Caribbean is equally a
concern for some agents who fear that Princess would not remain a
stand-alone division as part of RCCL.
Reducing the number of cruise lines in the market is also a
concern for some agents.
"It reduces our bargaining power," said Teri Trettin of Carlson
Wagonlit Travel in Tacoma, Wash.
But Trettin also believes Carnival would be more likely to keep
Princess as a separate brand -- hopefully, with separate commission
Deborah Tucker, owner of Gulfport, Fla.-based Travel Designs by
Debbie had a similar take on things, saying, "We've seen so many
takeovers that I am not surprised" by another.
Tucker said, "The only thing I worry about is [Princess] will
lose its brand identity. I think Carnival has done a very good job
in keeping the brand identity of Holland America and Carnival
totally separate. I think they do a better job of it than RCCL and
Likewise, Denise Sartorio, Cruise Connection, Parker, Colo.,
said the most important outcome of the Princess sale is that the
"integrity of the Princess product remains and that its quality
does not go down."
She added that there are pros and cons to each scenario.
"Clearly, Carnival already is a big conglomerate of cruise
lines, and they would dominate the market even more. At the same
time, management of Holland America and Cunard is separate so that
consumers don't even realize they are owned by Carnival."
Dick Clark, owner of Enjoy World Travel in Williston, Park,
N.Y., said he prefers an independent Princess, "but if it has to
merge, I would rather see it with RCCL. Carnival would be too
While noting that Carnival has been agent friendly and that he
expects it to stay that way, Clark was concerned that with so many
brands under its belt, Carnival could become an oligopoly.
Carlos Afre of You and Leisure, a major cruise-only agency in
San Francisco that is a top seller for Princess Cruises, also said,
"My wish is that Princess is left alone."
But he said he would favor the Carnival offer because that
company has a history of "leaving the cruise lines alone, even
though it's a scary prospect that Carnival" would hold such
Afre, like other agents, noted that RCCL merged the sales
departments of Celebrity and Royal Caribbean after its Celebrity
He also said that if Carnival succeeds in winning Princess, "it
will be very interesting to see how they manage Holland America and
Princess" in the same corporate family.
Other agents were unruffled by the prospect of either deal.
"I don't know that it will make any difference," said Anne
Zartman, co-owner of Laurel Travel Consultants in Laurel, Miss.
The two major trade associations aren't taking sides either.
ASTA president Richard Copland said, "We as travel agents have a
very good relationship with Carnival and Royal Caribbean. We are
supportive because they are very supportive of us."
Copland went on to note that the cruise lines are generally
reporting strong bookings, while the airlines are not. The
differentiating factor, Copland said, has been travel agents.
"The cruise industry has embraced the distribution system. The
cruise lines are doing well and the airlines are drowning in red
ARTA president John Hawks agreed but noted there are some
dangers in consolidation, particularly if it leads to a reduction
in the number of sales reps and district managers.
Hawks said ARTA had not yet taken "a formal position" on the
matter but said the best of all possible outcomes would be if
Princess remained autonomous.