We cannot blame agents for feeling uncomfortable about booking clients on a cruise line that decides to preempt agents by soliciting their passengers directly the next time around without informing them.

It is wrongheaded and ethically questionable for suppliers to woo away clients introduced to them. It's a violation of trust when a supplier offers those passengers an exclusive deal by direct mail, available through its toll-free reservations line or over the Internet, precluding an agency's role.

That is why Tony Persico, chairman of Cruise One and Cruise World, both subsidiaries of TSI (Travel Services International), the leisure company formed last year by former Avis chairman Joe Vittoria, asked his company's management team to drop Florida-based Renaissance from its product list, prompting discussions with the cruise line.


The line argues the promotion was a one-shot deal for only one sailing of the Renaissance VI. It wanted to give an opportunity to past guests to book because similar offers traditionally sell out quickly, locking out loyal customers.

It seems a bit much for Renaissance to make the argument by saying, "No one has a monopoly on customers who want to cruise," or that "many consumers don't have a relationship with travel agents and may be intimidated using an agent."

So the line paid full commissions to agents who called on behalf of their clients inquiring about the sailing. But why only then?

Members of the API consortium also have had their ups and downs with Renaissance over the same issue and such matters as an attempt by the line to pay only $100 for a first booking, regardless of the cruise price.

Renaissance claims it is heavily booked. The agencies involved may not matter to the line -- TSI's combined bookings represent a mere $300 million -- but Renaissance at least ought to let its agents know when the "specials" are coming.

There's no mystery here.

We do not know of any business that feeds customers to its partner, expecting that its beneficiary will then go over its head.

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