Letters to the Editor: Nov. 2, 2009

Cruise lines, agents have to share effects of the economic downturn

I read with interest your article in the Sept. 28 issue titled "Cruise executives defend commission policies at ASTA panel." 

With regard to the comment by Roger Block that "there had been cases of NCFs amounting to more than half the cruise price," I believe that if anything, he has understated the problem. How about an example of when the noncommissionable fees were 250% of the cruise rate and even the tax exceeded the cruise rate by more than 60%?

To offer just one example, the following is an actual breakdown for a four-night Bahamas cruise we recently booked on Royal Caribbean.

The total cost of the cruise for two was $383.80, a real bargain for the consumer, to be sure. The problem is that the cruise fare was $40 each, while the NCF was $99 each, with a tax of $57.90 each. That made the commissionable total on this sale $80, or 20% of the total customer cost.

It doesn't matter what size agency you are, or whether your commission level is 10% or 17%; there is no way you can make any money selling cruises when only 20% of the cost is commissionable. That translates into an actual commission rate of between 2.1% and 3.5%, depending on your individual agency rate.

Anyone who believes that the NCF issue does not pose a danger to the future of cruise industry is wrong. To me, the growth of NCFs demonstrates that the cruise lines are beginning to behave like the airlines. The difference is that the cruise lines hide their fees in the NCF amount rather than charging the separate consumer fees that the airlines charge.

Let's be honest: We all have a stake in the future of this industry, and we all need to share in the effects of the current economic downturn. The problem is that there needs to be a lot more equality in how that burden is shared. To survive, agents and cruise lines need each other, and we need to become better at working together.

Tim Donovan
Village Travel & Cruises
St. Augustine, Fla.

Venezuela's Hilton seizure holds lessons about Cuba after Castro

As someone who has worked for more than 15 years with Cuban tourism organizations, I strongly suggest that anyone interested in what lies ahead with the post-Castro tourism land rush reread your article headlined "Venezuela government takes control of Hilton property" [Oct. 14].

Venezuela's seizing control of foreign tourism investments most definitely foretells what will eventually happen in Cuba.

Also -- and on a completely different issue -- do not be afraid to visit Afghanistan these days. I just returned from a very interesting, and safe, six-week visit to that "war-torn" country. A beautiful place and equally beautiful people, except for those affiliated with the Taliban.

Robert Henry Walz, director
Afghanistan Wildlife and Zoo Foundation
Vancouver, Wash.

Iatan's request for personal data from agents led to suspended cards

In August, I received a letter from Iatan asking me to fax W-2 statements, check stubs and tax returns of my employees to its office in Montreal so that these employees could keep their Iatan card benefits.

Please note that we have five employees on staff. As this is sensitive personal information, I mailed it to the Miami Iatan office with the Social Security numbers and banking information covered.

Now Iatan is claiming that they did not receive anything from us and has suspended our Iatan card perks.

My contacts at Vacation.com have not heard of any agency being subjected to this scrutiny. Has any other agency been required to provide this information?

Paula Murphy
Crestwood Travel
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Will Turen's model work with low-income clients?

Richard Turen's "The $100 relationship bond" [Reality Check, Oct. 12] was another great column. I feel like this business model is very attractive to a certain client and wanted to ask if Richard could reveal what city this agency resides in. 

My wife and I own and operate a small travel company in a small town in Florida. Our office is small but quaint and modern, but I am fearful of this model because our average resident income is low.

Does this owner offer consultations?

Bill Fischer must have some serious travelers to charge those kinds of figures just to be part of his group. Impressive and bold -- I like that. Keep writing those great columns for the guys like me who want to reach those pinnacles.

Mark Gerling
Gerling Travel Group
Flagler Beach, Fla.

Editor's note: In his Reality Check column "The $100 relationship bond," Richard Turen was actually describing the business model employed by his own agency, which is headquartered in Naperville, Ill., with an office in Naples, Fla.

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