SAN FRANCISCO -- West Coast travel agents concerned the proposed merger between Royal Caribbean and Princess cruise lines will rob them of one of the few remaining California-based lines were heartened by remarks made by Phil Kleweno, Princess president, during a presentation here.

Speaking to a group of nearly 400 travel agents, Kleweno said, "Princess will stay in Santa Clarita," referring to the Los Angeles County city where the line is headquartered.

In an interview, Kleweno confirmed many of the statements made by Royal Caribbean chairman Richard Fain.

While most decisions regarding post-merger operations have not been made, he said, Princess "will remain as a stand-alone brand," even in terms of sales efforts.

Princess' contracts with agents and agent networks are in place for 2002 and will not change because of the impending merger, Kleweno said.

"Sometime in the middle of next year, we will develop agency programs for 2003," he noted, adding it won't be until then that Princess will have clear answers about how the merged company will handle overrides and other agent programs.

Meanwhile, he said the redeployment of ships to ports that are within driving distance for Americans seems to have been successful, drawing strong early sales.

Kleweno also said he expects price discounting to taper off after January as ships begin to fill up for the year.

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