Author Archives: Susan Schaefer

There are 218 articles by Susan Schaefer published on this site.


Travel Agent Beware

Travel agents need to beware of supplier policies which can impact our commissions. I learned a painful lesson the hard way, so I’m sharing it here in hopes that other travel agents can avoid my pain. Here it is: not all supplier gift cards or credit cards are travel agent friendly.

Here’s My Experience

My local grocery store gives double fuel points for gift card purchases, and sometimes they will offer quadruple fuel points. It was during one of these 4x points times that I purchased some cruise line gift cards to apply to my own cruise. What I did not know in advance was that these gift cards are applied as a cruise fare credit, not as a payment. What happens when the cruise fare is reduced with a credit

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Gratuities, Again

It seems that every time we turn around, one of the cruise lines increases their gratuity amounts. It was roughly 3 years ago that gratuities were approximately $12 per passenger, per day. With Norwegian Cruise Line’s most recent announcement, taking effect this Sunday April 1, 2018, their standard gratuities are increasing to $14.50 per passenger, per day. Their last increase was exactly one year ago, and before that there were two increases in 2015 (May 1 and August 1, increasing to $12.95 then to $13.50 respectively).

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Are Cruise Lines Our Partners?

I’ve heard grumblings from a variety of travel agent sources over the last few months.  The complaints vary: cruise lines poaching agency clients, marketing that encourages direct sales, cruise fares we can’t book, and lack of marketing support from our cruise line partners.  I’ve touched on some of these topics in the past, but it warrants a revisit in light of the current concerns from travel agents.
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Everyone is anticipating the launch of the new Celebrity Edge this fall, and Celebrity Cruises is keeping the excitement stoked by releasing new information over time, and not all at once.  The most recent announcement this week was about the new culinary features that will be found on-board the Celebrity Edge.

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Using Ship Inspections to Your Advantage

If you sell cruises, you should take advantage of opportunities that various cruise lines offer to do ship inspections. These opportunities provide the ability to check see staterooms and public areas, etc. without having to sail on the ships.

Do not dismiss ships inspections as a convenient opportunity only for travel agents that live close to cruise ports. If you are land locked as I am, you can still take advantage of ship inspection opportunities. It just takes some planning. Even if you live near a cruise port, advanced planning is required. Because of security concerns, you cannot simply wake up one morning and drive to the port, and be admitted to tour a ship that’s in port.

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Don’t Forget About Cruise Tours!

Some time ago I heard this in a cruise line training class about cruise-tours, and it has stuck with me ever since: “If you are not selling cruise-tours, you are leaving money on the table.” They weren’t exaggerating. As an example, let’s consider an agency that gets 10% commission with Princess Cruises. Take a 7 night Alaskan cruise with cruise line vacation protection, and add a 4 night pre-cruise tour.

The cruise-only commission works out to about $498. The cruise-tour commission works out to about $769. That is a difference of $271 you would be leaving on the table if you focus on booking cruises only. Obviously, the higher commission percentage that an agency gets, the more significant the difference is between cruise-only bookings and cruise-tour bookings.

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Cruise Ship Inspection Freak Out

The newest dog bone that the media has latched onto are the recent unsatisfactory sanitary inspections of three Carnival cruise ships. If you sell cruises, you will likely have a client bring up this topic sooner or later. With my clients, ironically it’s the non Carnival clients that are sharing concerns about the inspection results. My Carnival clients seem to be oblivious, even though I know they are on top of the news. Maybe they just don’t care; maybe because their upcoming bookings aren’t on any of the ships being reported in the media.

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Are Shore Excursions Dangerous?

In light of recent events, clients and travel advisors are asking this question. If you missed the news stories over the holidays, there have been two recent accidents involving Royal Caribbean and Celebrity cruise passengers. The first was just days before Christmas when a bus crashed, killing 11 cruise passengers and a tour guide. The excursion to a nearby Mayan ruin site was contracted through the cruise lines. The second incident was last week with a SCUBA diving boat sinking. Again, this was a cruise line contract excursion. Both incidents occurred in Mexico.

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Selling Incentive Cruises

Over the next week or two the phone calls will hopefully slow down to a trickle. During that time travel agents and clients alike will make their way over the hills and through the woods to celebrate the holidays with family. Possibly your clients will be talking to their families about their 2018 travel plans, possibly coaxing family members to join them. But what will you be doing during this down time?

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Marketing Holiday Cruises

We are in the midst of Hanukkah right now, and Christmas is only a few days away. You might get a last minute call from a client wanting a cruise for the holidays this year, but this isn’t the time to actually market 2017 holiday sailings. However, this is a great time to start marketing to clients about booking their cruises for Hanukkah or Christmas 2018 or even 2019 (some cruise lines have already released their 2019-2020 itineraries for booking).

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What’s Old is New Again

When cruise lines make a change, like introducing a new type of cruise fare or changing their group policy, etc. it’s not easy to predict how the change will be received. Four months ago Royal Caribbean changed their onboard rebooking policy (link to previous article:  http://www.travelresearchonline.com/blog/index.php/2017/08/keeping-up-with-onboard-future-bookings/). In a nutshell, they did away with the $100 per person reduced deposit, and the only onboard credit offer is now tied to the new nonrefundable deposit cruise fare.

My educated guess was that this may have been a result of passengers taking advantage of the previous low deposit amount, and booking multiple cruises only to cancel the bulk of them right before final payment. If you can’t decide which cruise you want, or don’t know if your vacation request will be approved, why not hedge your bets? You had nothing to lose since the deposits were refundable. However it was a pain for the cruise lines, with cancelled bookings dumping back into inventory.

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When New Policies Don’t Have Fanfare

I’m always suspicious when a new policy is rolled out by a cruise line, and it seems to just fly under the radar. Royal Caribbean recently rolled out new group policies to coincide with the new 2019-20 itineraries that are coming out. The deployment information is getting a lot of coverage and fanfare. But the new group policy, not so much, which has me concerned. Is this because they expect their travel agent partners aren’t going to like it when they finally learn about it?

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Winter is Coming!!

More accurately, WAVE SEASON IS COMING!! That thought is just as frightening for some in the travel industry as “winter is coming!” is to characters in Game of Thrones. There is general panic, anxiety and night terrors. It used to be that wave season didn’t kick in until after the new year rolled around, and it last for six to eight weeks. Then it began lasting longer.  Nowadays, for some travel agents, it feels like wave season can last three to four months (feeling like an eternity). As for when it starts, it’s feeling like November is the new January.

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Here Comes Adults Only Cruising

Virgin Voyages is coming. If you haven’t heard, that’s the new cruise line being launched by Richard Branson and his company the Virgin Group. It’s not surprising that Virgin Group would eventually come around and launch a cruise line. They don’t limit their ventures to travel, but they do have quite a few travel focused subsidiaries on the books: Virgin Atlantic, Virgin  America, Virgin Australia, Virgin Galactic, Virgin Vacations, Virgin Hotels, and Virgin Rail Group. And that’s not all of them; but you can see why Virgin Voyages (originally Virgin Cruises) isn’t a surprise.

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Is There Going to be a Caribbean Crisis?

Saying that this has been a memorable hurricane season would be an understatement. In the Atlantic alone, dealing with Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria have strained resources in multiple locations, turned vacations upside down and inside out. This has costed clients, cruise lines, and shore excursion operators a significant amount of money.

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Beverage Package Issues for Cruise Lines

Beverage packages seems to be an ongoing issue for cruise lines. They have tried a variety of twists with their beverage packages. Some have tested limiting beverage packages to 15 alcoholic drinks per 24 hour period. Others have tested whether they can allow passengers to purchase packages without requiring other adults in the stateroom to purchases the same package. It just feels like every time we turn around, we’re hearing about some cruise line tinkering with their rules and polices about beverage packages.

And just recently we have received announcements from two different cruise lines.

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The Latest and Greatest

In the chaos of hurricanes over the past few weeks, other cruise news has gone unnoticed. So let’s take a break from Hurricanes Harvey through Maria, and look at the latest improvements rolled out in Espresso, the booking engine used by Royal Caribbean, Celebrity, and Azamara.

Previous Espresso enhancements rolled out earlier this year included the ability to redeem group amenity points online, along with other group management enhancements. The newest enhancements rolled out last month are a mix of improvements.

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It Seems Like Harvey Was a Dress Rehearsal

Last week when I wrote about Hurricane Harvey and how the cruise lines responded, I never thought I would be writing about hurricanes the following week. I considered writing about something else cruise-related, but it all seems so unimportant right now. Read the rest of this entry »

How the Cruise Lines Responded to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricanes happen every year. Fortunately, they are usually identified early and closely tracked, and not every hurricane makes land fall. In most instances, cruises aren’t seriously impacted. I’ve been on ships when an itinerary has to be completely turned on its head because of an active hurricane, but that was the extent of the impact on the cruise; only a minor inconvenience.

As a result we had beautiful weather and calm seas. Of course, there’s always at least one loud disgruntled passenger because they had their hearts set on visiting a specific port, or they don’t want to go to Nassau for the umpteenth time.

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It’s Not Just Venice

The residents of Venice have been rumbling for a while about the influx of cruise ship passengers in their fragile city. The relationship between Venice, Italy and cruise ships is tenuous at best. It has been reported that relations between residents of Venice and the ever-growing number of tourists is strained, at best. With approximately 50,000 residents living in Venice, the influx of cruise ship passengers (up to 30,000 per day) is overwhelming the city. That does not include the number of tourists entering the city via land (by planes, trains, and automobiles). Calculate land-based tourists into the mix, and Venice residents are helplessly outnumbered.

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Blissful Cruising

Norwegian Bliss has been available to book for some time now, although the ship does not start sailing until Spring 2018. As consumers and travel agents alike wait in anticipation, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) occasionally releases more information about the ship, and its innovations. This week saw Norwegian releasing more information about firsts at sea, such as laser tag and the largest race track at sea.

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