DALLAS -- Ensemble Travel Group has added Carnival Cruise
Line as a preferred supplier in a nod to the brand's efforts to work more
closely with the agent community. The move gives the consortium's members a
wider opportunity to sell more moderately priced cruises.
The Carnival announcement was made at Ensemble's annual
conference here last week. Ensemble co-president Lindsay Pearlman said the
decision was an acknowledgement of how Carnival's distribution strategy has
evolved "relative to three to five years ago," when the company's
relationship with agents had reached an all-time low.
But recently, Pearlman told a media gathering, "The
members were asking for it. We do extremely well with [Carnival]."
The addition puts Carnival Cruise Line on equal footing with
Carnival Corp. sister brands Cunard, Holland America, Princess Cruises and
Seabourn, which are already Ensemble preferred suppliers.
As a result, said Marge McCauley, a Sparta, N.J.-based agent
with Scully Travel Group, Ensemble agents who serve more budget-minded
travelers will be able to offer clients better deals and more amenities. She
said she was "very pleased" with the decision.
"I'm practically located in rural Pennsylvania, so I
sell more Carnival, rather than Seabourn, which is what most New Jersey agents
sell," McCauley said. "People are always looking for free stuff, like
onboard credits, so that gives me an edge."
The move also represents a further effort on the part of
Carnival Cruise Line to repair a relationship with the agent community that had
become somewhat prickly during the past decade, when it reduced some of its
commissions and engaged in more aggressive direct-to-consumer sales campaigns.
In 2013, Carnival, which had removed travel agent references
from its television commercial tags, added back the reference at the end of its
ads. That same year, in a response to agent complaints, the cruise line reduced
its number of fare categories to three from six to make sales easier.
In 2015, Carnival reduced the thresholds on its commission
tiers, making it easier for agents to reach higher commission status. For
example, Carnival reduced to 250 from 400 the number of cabins agents needed to
sell to reach a 15% commission rate. Carnival cut most of its commission-tier
thresholds by more than 30%.
"We have a direct news channel, and that's not really
going to go away," Adolfo Perez, Carnival's vice president of sales and
trade marketing, told last week's media gathering. "But we're a big
supporter of the trade channel and are looking for more ways to show our
The decision was just one of a number of overtures Ensemble
made to the cruise industry during the conference at the Hyatt Regency Dallas
at Reunion, which attracted about 900 people.
The consortium, which said it had its best year in 2016 and
was on track to beat those numbers because of increases in all travel
categories, unveiled its Navigate cruise-booking platform at last year's annual
conference. Ensemble co-president Libbie Rice acknowledged last week that the
consortium had to iron out kinks in the new platform.
"Has the rollout of Navigate gone as smoothly as
expected? No," Rice told conference attendees. "We're recognizing the
need for a formal team to bridge the gap between vendors and infrastructure."
Ensemble featured Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings CEO Frank
Del Rio in a question-and-answer session. Del Rio used the opportunity to tout
the cruise industry's response to this season's hurricanes, and he encouraged
attendees to sell the Bahamas, the Cayman Islands, Jamaica and other Caribbean
destinations that suffered little or no damage from the storms.
"Over 40% of the industry's capacity is in the
Caribbean, so we need the Caribbean to succeed and be open," Del Rio said.
"We in the industry can't possibly have an excellent year and perform as
expected if the Caribbean isn't part of the mix, so it behooves us to work
together to get the Caribbean up and running. You've got to do your part and
get your clients revved up to go to the Caribbean again."
In addition to Carnival Cruise Line, Ensemble said that it
had added 16 other preferred suppliers to its stable, including Hawaiian
Airlines, Japan National Tourism Organization, Norwegian Air, TAP Portugal, Eva
Airways and Onefinestay.
Ensemble executives, along with ASTA, also announced the
creation of the Susan D. Tanzman Inspiration Award in honor of the travel
agent, who died in September. The award will be given yearly at ASTA's annual
global convention to an agent who embodies Tanzman's "inspiring nature and
dedication to the agency community."
Tanzman headed Los Angeles-based Martin's Travel &