RCCL ends relationship with YTB

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Royal Caribbean Cruises has terminated its relationship with YTB Travel Network, a host agency and multilevel marketing business in Wood River, Ill., effective Nov. 9, according to Kim Sorensen, the network's CEO.

However, Sorensen said, YTB seeks to meet with the cruise company's top management in hopes of winning reinstatement. He said, "It is our position that [the line's] senior management hasn't taken enough of a look at our business, and we want the opportunity to show them that."

The cruise company, which operates Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises, said in a letter to agents this week that it had begun terminating its business relationships with certain travel-related companies that it had concluded were "in the card-mill business" (selling ordinary consumers access to benefits designed for travel agents).

Sorensen said that YTB was a "networking company, but we also put major emphasis on the travel side. ...We want to legitimize the concept with our production." On the other hand, he said, YTB makes no pretense of competing with "high-touch, high-service" travel agents; it is after the consumer who is comfortable booking on the Internet.

YTB reported $226 million in 2006 sales, giving it the No. 35 spot on Travel Weekly's 2007 Power List. The company also said it had booked $13 million in cruises with the cruise company so far this year.

Sorensen said the travel emphasis was what differentiated YTB from card mills, which are merely networking businesses.

Card mills sell access to travel discounts meant for the trade, but Sorensen argued YTB does no such thing. He said YTB issues an entry-level ID card that looks nothing like the Iatan card (generally an accepted form of ID in order to obtain reduced-rate travel and other such benefits) and is meant for use at the time of booking, not for obtaining travel benefits.

He said YTB has an arrangement with major suppliers whereby YTB screens all its outside agents, called referring travel agents or RTAs, for their productivity before allowing them to take a supplier's fam rates or other offers meant for selling agents. He said YTB has had no problems with any of its suppliers, including Royal Caribbean, over reduced-rate travel for two years.

He said he assumes most suppliers would not accept the YTB card as justification for trade benefits, and "I don't know how to deal with that if suppliers do accept it."

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to Nadine Godwin at [email protected].

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