When it comes to selling cruises, travel agents face competition from cruise line websites, where consumers who are increasingly comfortable with online commerce often go to book


In last week’s Insight I published the results of my informal survey of 25 passengers on a recent Mexican Riviera cruise onboard Princess Cruises’ Ruby Princess.

To recap, 10 of the 25 people I talked with had booked directly with Princess. Of the 15 who booked with a travel agent, nine had used agents they had some personal relationship with, while six booked through online agencies or nontraditional travel retailers, such as Costco.

Last week I recounted the reasons people gave for booking direct. This week is devoted to those who bought through an agent.

Typical of this group was Wendy Cox, of Pahrump, Nev., near Las Vegas. Even though she uses a travel agent in Seattle, Cox said she finds it more convenient than booking direct. “It’s much easier,” she said. “They do it all for you.”

Travel agents are just as capable as the cruise lines of getting the best price, said Texan Tom Matyas, who works for a charity. “Same price, better service,” was his summary of why he bought through Destination Travel in Wichita Falls, Texas.

For others, when I asked why they booked with an agent, loyalty was the first thing that got discussed.

Steve and Chris Torre, who live in Orange County, Calif., booked their trip through Carrie Babey at Eastlake Travel in Yorba Linda. “We have used her for years,” said Steve, an eighth-grade teacher.

Steve Dolphin, a college music professor in the San Francisco Bay area, bought his cruise from Coastline Travel in Garden Grove, Calif. “I’ve been using them for 40 years,” he said.

Carol Wall, who owns a taxi provider in San Diego, said she bought from Skyscraper Tours, a cruise specialist in Siloam Springs, Ark. And Bozena Jabr, who was on her first cruise to celebrate her 25th wedding anniversary, said her husband bought the cruise through a San Francisco agent.

Others bought through online agencies. Doug and Rochelle, a Los Angeles couple who were on their honeymoon, went back and forth between the Princess website and Expedia.com but ultimately booked through Expedia, which had a package that appealed to them.

Other OTA names that came up include CruCon Cruise Outlet, Cruise.com and Vacations to Go.

Finally, one passenger, Kathy Kosoff, who is retired from the wedding stationery business in Irvine, Calif., said she bought her cruise through Costco Travel, an online subsidiary of the Costco membership-only warehouse club chain.

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