ROSEMONT, Ill. -- Travel agents must evolve with the marketplace to
continue to profit from the fast-growing cruise industry, several
cruise line executives said at an industry conference here.
Speaking on a panel at the Chicago Cruise Showcase on Nov. 3,
the executives also emphasized that their business will continue to
depend heavily on travel agents to fill the berths on all the new
ships under construction.
"We believe that the distribution system's role in the cruise
industry will be very significant," said Vicki Freed, senior vice
president of sales and marketing at Carnival Cruise Lines. "We do
not believe the Internet will take a lot of bookings away from
However, Freed warned agents that they must meet the changing
needs of the consumer to sell cruises successfully in the near
future. "We do see the distribution system changing, and it needs
to change to keep up with the consumers of today," she said.
"They are very different. They're used to getting a lot of
information fast, and they demand much more from retailers. They
expect you to be there when they want to make a booking," said
Freed, who also serves as chairman of the Cruise Lines
International Association. "Agents hate to hear this, but 40% of
high-ticket sales are made on Saturdays and Sundays, and 30%
between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. during the week," Freed said, sounding a
familiar theme about agencies that keep shorter hours.
About 350 agents attended the daylong Chicago Cruise Showcase,
which included seminars, a trade show and the after-dinner panel
discussion. The event was sponsored by the Chicago-area chapters of
ASTA, the Pacific Asia Travel Association and the Caribbean Tourism
Rick James, senior vice president of sales and corporate
relations for Princess Cruises, also urged agents not to worry
excessively about the Internet taking away business but to focus on
fine-tuning their client database. "The tool you need to master is
database marketing," James said. "You need to truly understand whom
you do business with, what their desires are and how to sell them
In response to a question from an agent, Rick Sasso, president
of Celebrity Cruises, addressed the problem of getting convenient,
nonstop air transportation to ports of embarkation. "You do a great
job of selling our product, so then we have to scramble for airline
seats. Sometimes we'll charter planes or use UPS cargo planes" that
are reconfigured to accommodate passengers on weekends, Sasso said.
"We're aware of the problem."
Jack Anderson, senior vice president of marketing and sales for
Holland America Line, noted that air lift into Vancouver, British
Columbia, has "increased dramatically" since the open-skies
agreement between the U.S. and Canada.
However, he predicted that cruise lines will continue to expand
into new home ports and even depart on different days of the week,
which may help ease the air shortage. "We'll see a great
diversification of home ports," Anderson said. "We're already
seeing cruise lines introducing service from Tampa, Houston, New
York and Seattle. We'll see more diversification of itineraries and
see more itineraries spread across days of the week."
One agent questioned whether there truly is a "level playing
field" among all types of agencies when it comes to cruise pricing.
"I don't believe in a level playing field, but I do believe in
equal opportunity," James said. "The person who sells 1,000 cruises
a year should be compensated in a different fashion than the person
selling 50 cruises a year."
On the pricing front, Sasso said the cruise lines don't like to
see rebating, and they try to "protect the integrity" of cruise
fares. "We don't want people to go out and rebate 10% and make five
bucks," he continued. "The way to overcome that is to provide great
The executives said providing good service and building loyalty
among their clients is the way for local, smaller agencies to
combat competition from toll-free-number agencies and mammoth
companies that can cut favorable deals.
"For our products, we need a large distribution system," Freed
said. "We need the travel agent community to survive and be
profitable and motivated. We like 30,000 agencies selling our