There were heartening words for travel agents from both sides of the nation in recent days.

Instead of cruisin' for a bruisin' in a sea of consumer-direct marketing come-ons and $396 "at-home sales associates," leisure retailers were told by the officials of two major cruise lines that they were committed to the travel agency distribution system, even in the event that the Internet grows as a significant source of business.

For one, Princess Cruises president Peter Ratcliffe, speaking in these pages with Travel Weekly West Coast bureau chief Jerry Brown in Los Angeles, was unequivocal in his support of the trade.

In addition to attributing at least some of the line's success to its support of retailers, he said, "The agent industry is going through a lot of changes in the area of commissions, but I don't think we'll ever change; our commitment hasn't wavered in 15 years."

In Miami Beach, Premier Cruises president Bruce Nierenberg, who recently rejoined the company he co-founded more than 15 years ago, told Southeast bureau chief Ernest Blum, "We will not sell a cruise unless a travel agent is involved."

Even reading between the lines, we fail to see any fine print in either clear-cut endorsement of the trade.

Perhaps most gratifying of all were Ratcliffe's and Nierenberg's affirmations that neither viewed the Internet as a bypass mechanism and that both saw the trade as an integral part of any Web-based transactions.

While Nierenberg stated that a booking will not be completed on Premier's Web site "without the participation of an agent," Ratcliffe said Princess will not go direct to the consumer or offer special prices on the Net.

The flip side of all this, it seems clear to us, is that agents, for their part, must continue to support those who support them. And when it comes to that, actions -- in the form of cruise bookings -- will speak louder than words.

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