ome cruise lines have boosted their commission rates, temporarily offering agents 20% up front on new bookings for 2001 departures. In view of the fact that the year is almost over and cruise rates have fallen sharply due to a drop in demand, some agents are grumbling that this offer isn't really as generous as it would have been a few months ago.

True enough. And given that the offer originated with the same folks who recently slashed commissions on air segments, some agents are underwhelmed by Carnival's expressions of concern about the viability of the nation's travel agents. An understandable reaction, perhaps, but we think it misses the point.

Make no mistake, this is a test. Here we have some A-list suppliers with a textbook problem: too much supply and not so much demand. There are lots of textbook solutions for this, including price reductions, value enhancements, advertising, PR, selling direct, going to the Web, offering incentives to travel agents and all of the above. Companies answerable to shareholders are going to do what works. If cruise lines can't move the needle by offering a 20% commission, they'll remember, and other suppliers will, too.

Back in August, we said in this space that the airlines, having hit a wall with business travel this year, should be asking themselves what they can do to win the support of travel agents to fill their airplanes. Since Sept. 11, the airplanes have been even emptier. Some smaller airlines have appealed to the retail trade, and Austrian Airlines eliminated its commission cap, but the largest airlines in the world still aren't knocking on agency doors.

However, the largest cruise lines in the world are knocking. We hope the agency community can demonstrate that it knows how to answer the door.

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