SEATTLE -- When is a letter from a cruise line not really a letter from the cruise line?

Ella Grondahl, owner of Global Escapes in Athens, Ga., was asking that of Holland America after one of her firm's clients received a letter from one of HAL's in-house "personal cruise consultants,"or PCCs.

The letter referred to "a new department for individuals who prefer to book directly with us rather than using a travel agent."

The letter, which was sent in response to a brochure request, offered the client "an opportunity to have a ... relationship with a Personal Cruise Consultant. This will ensure you receive efficient service with your initial planning, booking and servicing of your cruise."

A HAL spokeswoman said the letter had been sent on an individual basis by only a few of its PCCs. "This was not a ... broad-based distribution," she said. She added the letter didn't intend to imply that direct bookers would get better service from a PCC than from a travel agent, only that PCCs offer better service to consumers than the line's agent-focused res center would.

The main mission of the PCC department -- which has been around for a couple of years -- is to follow up on direct leads via the phone.

"What's important to us is to get the booking," the spokeswoman said. "At any point in the process, we're happy to turn a booking over to a travel agent."

Grondahl said HAL later apologized for the letter. "I'm glad they're saying, 'We apologize, and we're trying not to do it [anymore],' " she said.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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