What’s Curbing My Enthusiasm for Cruise Sales & What to Do About It | TravelResearchOnline


What’s Curbing My Enthusiasm for Cruise Sales & What to Do About It

My fellow TAs, this is a cry for help. My 30-year-long love affair with cruises is in jeopardy. ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ as BB King says. The change has been so gradual as to be almost un-detected, previously misdiagnosed as Creeping Laziness.

I recently sat down for some remedial therapy with my Grief Counselor*, digging deep for answers. Emotions ran high and we went through several boxes of tissue…but here is what emerged:

Over the last decade or so there have been parallel developments that have posed a huge challenge for cruise agents:

  • Increasing complexity of costs (due to un-bundling of a formerly all-inclusive product)
  • Mass-marketization of the product (more and much larger mega-ships)
  • Growth of non-commissionable fees (NCFs) as a percentage of the total cost – the end result being we work harder for a smaller piece of the pie. (There are a few exceptions, such as the new Great American Steamboat Company with no NCFs at all – paying full commission on the entire fare.)

On-board revenue generating options are certainly a boon to cruise lines – and undoubtedly help keep base fares low – but agents do not share in this additional revenue – even though the money is being spent by loyal clientele that we directed to the cruise line.


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Sure, we can steer clients to agent friendly ancillary suppliers like Shoretrips.com – earning an extra bit of commission here and there – often securing a better product at a lower price in the process. But, until some agent friendly entrepreneur opens an on-board Olive Garden franchise – there’s not much we can do about commission on dining surcharges.

And, in spite of what cruise line execs say, customer poaching is another problem – in the form of direct solicitation.  (Why do they always implement the ‘Homer Simpson’ defense when confronted with the evidence? “Doh! Some idiot in the office screwed up.”)

Then there is the long delayed but looming specter of cruise booking automation. What will that look like and how will it impact our business? It appears that those developments are following the airline model, lagging about a decade behind.

Online travel buyers are already becoming more trusting and accustomed to complex online purchases without live agent assistance, especially if enticed by a lower price – going beyond simply researching possibilities, then calling an agent to complete the purchase.

Following the lead of the airlines, cruise lines are beginning to put strong incentives in place to accelerate this trend – soon the cheapest fares will only be found online. I believe the Split Red Funnel crowd has already gone this route with certain discounted fare buckets, such as military.

It’s just a matter of time until we see huge advertising campaigns touting ‘opaque’ fares and TV spots featuring William Shatner haranguing a beleaguered online cruise shopper to show some real chutzpah and bid lower. Look for discounted rate channels such as “name-your-own-price” or “just-get-me-on-a-ship” fares dominating mass-market ad campaigns – from the likes of mega-discounters such as Orbitz and Priceline.

How to regain “That Loving Feeling

So, before we slash our wrists and jump off an 18th deck balcony of the Walmart of the Seas – let’s look at more constructive options.

We can always continue to move upscale – focusing on high end customers who appreciate and are willing to pay for great service. This has proven to be a profitable strategy for us with air – where live agents now handle only international first and business class fares, usually booked via consolidators offering net or commissionable fares. Hyper cost conscious ‘bottom feeders’ and ‘tire kickers’ are directed to a branded but fully automated booking site. Budget minded customers needing agent assistance pay a ‘plan-to-go’ fee to offset labor costs not covered by reduced commission amounts.

As with air, it is just a matter of deciding what your time is worth, planning strategy and implementing procedures accordingly.

To replicate the successful air booking strategy for cruise sales, we are currently evaluating ‘custom branding’ possibilities and/or partnerships for online cruise booking engines.

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and solutions.

(*Our Aussie Shepherd, she’s a very good listener.)


  8 thoughts on “What’s Curbing My Enthusiasm for Cruise Sales & What to Do About It

  1. My buddy up in Washington state read this article and had a simply brilliant suggestion. TA’s should take a cue from the Occupy Wall Street crowd and stage sit-ins on the Disney ships. That would get some publicity, no? And Disney’s on-board security would respond forcefully…but it might be fun to see if Goofy knows which way to point the Pepper Spray.

  2. J E Masson PhD CTC says:

    I have been selling cruises since the dawn of time— early 50s weekend cruises on the FLORIDA to La Habana. If you don’t know what I speak about, don’t worry. Travel agents have brought riches to cruise lines and now find themselves fighting for every penny of income created for their coffers. It’s not right and I fully agree with your loss for it’s also mine as well.

  3. Steven says:

    You’re right, high-end travelers will continue to appreciate the “concierge consultant” approach and hopefully the 1% will consider us as well, but it looks like the River Cruise segment still loves us and respects us after the bookings!

  4. Wilma says:

    I think “Walmart of the Seas” pretty much describes the cruise industry for the average client. In days past, the blue-collar class and rising execs could enjoy a bit of luxury and service without breaking their vacation budget. Now they have to pay extra for that experience and by dumbing down the booking process on the internet, they are prepared for a dumb-downed cruise!

    As an agent, even if I weren’t facing the NCF’s and lower commissions, I find it a tad dishonest to sell the Walmart product when the client expects a Macy’s product. Lingering notions of the luxury of cruising still exist, but they aren’t there unless one pays top dollar.

    Just like the airlines have done. Remember when folks dressed up to fly because they were served, coddled and comfortable for a few hours? Now that only happens–maybe–in business and first class.

  5. Walmart of the Seas? Very funny. Blue Monkey misses you & Judith, so do I.

  6. As the NCF kept increasing we gradually went from cruises to all inclusives. We now do more then 60% all inclusives. Cruise line executives have their heads in the sand because if they loose the agent community so goes their profit. On lline bookers look for the cheapest cruise and have no loyalty. Eventually they will all go the way of Renaissance cruise lines.

  7. Paula Demmer says:

    Awesome article and comparisons…. I sure don’t market to the Walmart of the Seas crowd, but wish the deluxe traveler who appreciates pro advice was easier to find!

    May need to talk to my own Grief Counsellor (Danes are good listeners too).

  8. Victor says:

    I stopped selling mainstream cruises two years ago and focused on selling river boat cruises with Viking and Uniworld and Seadream for those that wanted Caribbean and Med cruises.
    Yes it costs a bit more but I now have less Wamart type clients that I let the cruiselines deal directly with and let the cruise lines waste their time explaining their policies.
    Seadream, Viking and Uniworld offer service and commission.
    And real people actually answer the phones when you have a question and they appreciate the booking.
    Leave the unprofitable clients to the cruiselines directly…they have shafted us slowly with laser like precision. I am now FREE of the pain that they cause with each comm cheque!
    Happy selling!

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