The bottom line: Agents deliver for cruise lines

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Celebrity Cruises CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo (left) with Presidents' Panel co-moderators Arnie Weissmann and Mary Pat Sullivan. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

FORT LAUDERDALE -- Wall Street analysts largely seem to have ceased questioning whether the travel agent channel is a worthwhile investment, in large part because the lines are performing so well from a financial standpoint.

But from a president's perspective, there's no question about the channel's value.

During the Presidents' Panel at CruiseWorld, Norwegian Cruise Line CEO Andy Stuart said, "Our job is to run the company in the most profitable way." Agents produce a lot of bookings, and Wall Street's view doesn't change that, he said.

"We never know what Wall Street believes or what they won't believe," said Celebrity Cruises CEO Lisa Lutoff-Perlo. "You never know when you end a call [with analysts] what's going to happen, but to Andy's point, it really doesn't matter."

Lutoff-Perlo said analysts used to think about agents as they relate to costs, but their concerns have shifted more toward operating income.

"I think they finally get it, and to Andy's point, if they don't that's their problem, and they're not as smart as they think they are," she said.

Norwegian delivered its third-quarter results Thursday, and it exceeded total earnings for 2014 in a single quarter, Stuart said.

"The proof is in the pudding, right?" he said. "If you're delivering those earnings with a model that relies on all of you, no one will question or push you to change the model."

While Hurtigruten isn't a publicly traded company, CEO Daniel Skjeldam said its private equity owners are giving the company money to invest in the travel trade.

"They believe they get something back from it," he said.

The cruise line leaders also addressed a topic of increasingly growing importance: sustainability in ports of call.

"The environment is the issue that is becoming the No. 1 issue in the world right now," Lutoff-Perlo said. "I think the cruise industry has done more than any other industry. We are a small percentage of tourism, but we will continue to be good world and global citizens."

Skjeldam said the cruise lines have a responsibility to do right by destinations on their itineraries. He emphasized that a good place for travelers to visit should be a good place to live. He said  Hurtigruten encourages passengers to spend money locally.

Roberto Fusaro, president of MSC Cruises North America, said, "It's very important that we are seen as locals and we help the local community."

"It's not should we, shouldn't we, we have to," Stuart added.

Skjeldam said the industry should do more, and he urged cruise lines to work faster to help combat overcrowding because the cruise industry is growing rapidly, evidenced by the large number of ships on order. 

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