Author Archives: Susan Schaefer

There are 225 articles by Susan Schaefer published on this site.


Rewarding Travel Agents for Loyalty

Our suppliers are always looking for ways to encourage travel agents to book their product more. Of course, the biggest incentive or reward is an increase in commission, and suppliers definitely do reward productivity with higher commission levels. However, several suppliers have additional incentive programs in place as well. Read the rest of this entry »

The Onboard Credit Conundrum

Over the last several months the three brands owned by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd (Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, and Azamara Club Cruises) have rolled out a new program that allows passengers to “spend” their onboard credit before ever stepping foot onboard a ship. As a cruise consumer, I thought this was fantastic. I am one of those cruisers that likes to pre-plan everything. When I walk onboard the ship, I don’t want to have to worry about buying anything, reserving anything, etc. Read the rest of this entry »

Welcome to the Family Silversea Cruises

Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., the parent company that owns Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises, announced this week that they are buying a controlling share of Silversea Cruises. Silversea Cruises has been owned and operated by the Lefebvre d’Ovidio family for the past two decades. Assuming that there are no hiccups along the way, the deal should be closed by the end of 2018.

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Streamlining Loyalty Programs

As you know, Royal Caribbean also owns Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. A unique aspect of this ownership is that the three cruise lines offer reciprocal loyalty program benefits. For example, if you are an Emerald Member with Royal Caribbean’s Crown & Anchor Society, but you have never sailed with Celebrity Cruises; Celebrity will give you the perks of their Select level of the Captain’s Club because it is the equivalent to Royal Caribbean’s Emerald level.

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The 2018 Hurricane Season

Officially, it’s here. Hurricane Season starts on June 1, and goes through November 30 every year. Of course, hurricanes happen year round; they’re simply more prone to occur during the 6 month period of June 1 – November 30. Hurricane Alex popped up in January 2016. I remember the shock expressed by clients and friends, that a hurricane could “happen so early.” I was repeatedly explaining that hurricanes happen anywhere and anytime.

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A “New” Cruise Company: Saga Cruises

Have you every had that client request that was challenging to meet, or even impossible? They want a cruise, but they don’t want kids onboard or even younger adults, and they’re traveling solo. Adult only cruises haven’t been available outside of the charter market. We know Virgin Voyages will start sailing in 2020 with an adult only product. But they are not targeting a specific age range, other than adult.  Then, along comes Saga Cruises.

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With New Ships Comes New Terminals

We have several new ships in the pipeline for the coming years. And cruise ports need to keep up with the new ship builds. As the ships are being designed to be bigger, cruise ports take the risk of losing business if they cannot accommodate these bigger ships. When Royal Caribbean designed the largest ship at sea, Oasis of the Seas, they built a whole new port of call in Falmouth, Jamaica to accommodate the size of Oasis.

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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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