Travel Weekly's Cruise E-Letter: March 26, 2002

TRAVEL AGENTS' future lies in cruise sales, ASTA president Richard Copland told an audience of agents at ASTA's annual Cruisefest conference in Miami. Copland said ASTA has been holding meetings with cruise executives to discuss travel agent issues and build ASTA's credibility with the cruise lines; he pledged to "intensify" those meetings. Copland also pointed out a joint advertising campaign between ASTA and Carnival Corp. reached about 27.5 million leisure travelers.

MAJOR CRUISE LINES said they were holding steady on commissions on air-sea bookings. Representatives from Carnival, Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, Princess, Holland America and Windstar said the air portion of agents' commission would remain at 5%. Norwegian Cruise Line, the last of the major cruise lines to continue to pay 10% on air, made no immediate change, but its policy has been under review throughout the Wave period. The line is expected to decide at the end of the week whether to maintain the 10% rate.

LUXURY LINE Silversea Cruises also had a commission review under way. It decided to reduce its air and hotel commissions beginning with 2003 bookings. Under the plan, which was developed before the latest airline commission cut, agents will receive a flat 10% rate for hotel and air instead of their cruise override level, and port charges and handling fees no longer will be commissionable. A spokeswoman said the policy changes were made to bring Silversea in line with other companies.

CARNIVAL OFFICIALS confirmed that the Patriot, nee the Nieuw Amsterdam, is for sale. The ship, which sailed under the now-defunct American Classic Voyages, was repurchased by Carnival brand Holland America Line for $79.8 million in February; officials at the time were debating whether to operate the ship under the Holland America flag, transfer it to another Carnival brand or sell it.

MEANWHILE, Carnival Corp. reported a meager first-quarter profit of $129.6 million, up only 1.25%, but up nonetheless in the face of a bookings decline after the terrorist attacks. Although revenue fell 9.4%, to $905.8 million, in the period ended Feb. 28, vice chairman Howard Frank called the results "pretty extraordinary considering Sept. 11." The company explained that the revenue drop did not translate into an equivalent profit loss because the air portion of bookings are sold at near cost. Revenue reductions also were partially offset by a 2.3% increase in cruise capacity. Carnival chairman Micky Arison said the company expects net revenue to be down 4% to 6% in the second and third quarters and up slightly in the fourth.

STAR CRUISES, parent company of Norwegian Cruise Line, agreed to a $450 million refinancing arrangement through a group of Asian-based banks headed by the Shanghai Banking Corp. Ltd. (HSBC) in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, Festival Cruises, the Greek operator, secured a new funding package that includes $57.3 million from its existing shareholders and a $82.2 million, seven-year bond from a pool of Italian banks.

CENDANT'S CHEAP TICKETS site added on-line and telephone cruise bookings through CruisePath Network, a subsidiary of Sterling Technology Group. Cheap Tickets will offer inventory from nine lines -- Carnival, Celebrity, Crystal, Disney, Holland America, Norwegian, Princess, Royal Caribbean and Windstar.

CELEBRITY CRUISES canceled or altered the itineraries of several cruises aboard the Summit and Infinity, its two newest ships, because ball bearing units in the ships' propulsion pods were showing premature wear. The ships are operating safely in Caribbean waters, albeit at a lower cruising speed. The Infinity already had its ball bearings replaced during a June dry-docking, three months after it entered service. Scrapped as a result of the problem are a March 29 sailing of the Summit and April 13 and 20 Infinity cruises. In addition, an 11-night Summit itinerary April 8 will be shortened to seven nights, while the Infinity's April 6 and April 27 voyages have been modified to end and begin in Fort Lauderdale instead of San Juan. Guests booked on the canceled sailings will receive a full refund and a 50% discount on a future cruise; those booked on the April 8 Summit cruise will receive a 50% refund.

PORTS OF CALL:
• The Norwegian Star will permanently call at Hilo, on the big island of Hawaii, Norwegian Cruise Line said. The ship, which originally called in Kona, in January switched to Hilo on a trial basis through the end of March. NCL said the lack of shore tenders in Kona and positive passenger feedback convinced them to remain with Hilo.
• Celebrity Cruises sailed forth from Baltimore yesterday on its 1,870-passenger Galaxy for the first of a series of 10- and 11-night Caribbean cruises. The Baltimore departures are part of a strategy to offer more ships in U.S. drive markets, Celebrity officials said.
• Crystal Cruises renegotiated rates with its hospitality partners on its five-night, fully escorted Alaska land tour, a spokeswoman said, which means the tour has a "value price" of $1,995. The Alaska land program, an optional addition aboard the June 3 or June 14 sailings of the Crystal Harmony, visits Anchorage, Fairbanks and Denali National Park.

NEW ITINERARIES:
• Windstar added four sailings in the western Mediterranean on the 148- passenger Wind Spirit to accommodate charter bookings. Embarkation dates are: July 20, Rome to Nice; July 27, Nice to Barcelona, Aug. 3, Barcelona to Lisbon, and Aug. 31, Rome to Athens.
• Holland America Line added a 24-day Mediterranean and transatlantic cruise this fall at the conclusion of the Noordam's Europe season. Guests will embark Nov. 10 for an overnight stay in Civitavecchia, Italy, the port city for Rome, and arrive Dec. 4 in Fort Lauderdale.
• Crystal Cruises' 2003 schedule features nine maiden calls, including stops in Huahine, French Polynesia; Porto Belo, Brazil; Nagoya, Japan, and Norfolk, Va.

CUNARD LINE redesigned its Web site, www.cunard.com, to allow visitors to take an online tour of the famous Queen Elizabeth 2 and view panoramic shots of the cabins and public rooms. Marketing and promotional materials for travel agents also are available on line.

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