Are the cruise lines drifting away from the travel agent? | TravelResearchOnline


Are the cruise lines drifting away from the travel agent?

After being in the travel business for the last 26 years, is it just my failing memory of “How it used to be?” or am I noting that there continues to be a major change in the direction being taken by the senior management of the major cruise lines?

I seem to remember going to some of the major cruise conferences where “agent friendly” cruise executives would proclaim how important the travel agent distribution model was to them. Cruise Line panels had very pro-agent executives like Bob Dickinson (Carnival), Rod McCloud (RCCL), Kirk Landerman (HAL); Rick James (Princess) and Jackie Johnson (NCL) all telling the agents how important we were to them. They were both agent friendly and approachable at every event I attended.

It seems that now more corporate orientated executives have replaced them, many of which have come from outside the cruise industry. And, while they mouth some of the same things, we also read that the Carnival brands are seeing over 20% of their bookings direct from the consumer. And many feel the “most popular” cruise line, is well above that number. Have things changed?

If Agents Don’t Fill The Ships, The Cruise Lines Will

Let me add, that in all the travel agent training that I have done over the years, I have always warned agents, that if they don’t keep filling all the new ships, the cruise lines will be forced to go direct.

We all need to be thankful for these beautiful new ships with all the great features and venues on board–oh how I wish I had them to sell back in 1986. Today’s prices are close to the same prices for which I was selling the Carnival Mardi Gras and the NCL “White Fleet.” Do you remember those days?

So, I’m not advocating complaining, but I am suggesting that agents need to keep working on improving their selling skills and keep working harder to fill new ships.

Are We Seeing A New Breed Of Cruise Line Executive?

Am I the only one lamenting the recent retirement of Maurice Zarmati, long time Carnival friend and then Costa President, or Lee Robinson VP of Sales of Princess? Two agent-friendly cruise executives that would bend over backward to help you grow your business, gone.

And, now we learn that Dan Hanrahan, one of the newer breed of cruise line executives is “abandoning ship” to become the CEO of a hair cutting chain! I remember when Dan joined RCCL and he came to my office in Bal Harbor, Florida to meet with me and asked, “What can we do to help you build your business?” I can honestly say, he kept his word and was always there when I needed something. So what is wrong with the cruise industry that lets such a talent chose Minneapolis over Miami and a lifetime of free cruises for FREE haircuts? What’s up with that?

Are Cruise Lines Hiding Behind Their Policy and Procedure Manuals?

Before I get off my soapbox, let me ask one more question. Have you run into a cruise line department that seemed to turn a deaf ear to your plea for a small concession? Maybe it is one that would help them keep a new passenger happy? I recently was away on a trip and came home to a booking cancelation notice that said I had missed a final payment on an Australian cruise. While I called on the day they required me to respond, I was told that the booking had already been canceled and the deposit had been forfeited. When I explained it was not the client’s fault by my own. I explained that if the client were forced to rebook and make another deposit, we would have BOTH lost a client for life. I had to go to two supervisors to plead my case for a balcony cabin in a wide-open ship before someone had the common sense to let me regain the cabin in question.

Okay, it was my mistake. So let me close with another recent event that would have NEVER happened in my early days of cruising.

You have probably heard about the elderly couple, husband aged 90, and wife aged 84 that booked THREE “back-to-back” cruises on Seabourn in May. The cruise had started from Rome on May 4th and the couple had attended that segment’s lifeboat drill. However, before leaving on their second segment from Lisbon, on May 12th, the woman felt ill and didn’t attend. The husband went without her, considering they had just done the same lifeboat drill seven days earlier, and that they were in the same cabin, and both knew the procedure and route from their cabin.

To the husband’s dismay, upon his return to the cabin he was shocked to see that officers were already packing their belongings and they were put off the ship. I am not suggesting Seabourn didn’t have the right to take this action; but I am questioning if being so rigid and not offering a “make-up” drill (most often done on larger ships), might have been a reasonable compromise, given that the wife had just done the same drill for the same cabin seven days earlier?

Common sense should still have a place in a still-growing industry. I was fortunate to learn how to sell luxury cruises from the likes of Dick Revnes, the great President of Royal Cruise Lines; and Warren Titus, who started Seabourn. I think they would both be turning over in their graves had they known what has become of the industry! My thinking is that while Seabourn was within their rights, they ignored common sense and lost more than the just the two clients and probably the agent that booked them. Maybe I am just too old and long for the “good old days”…what do you think? Have the cruise lines lost it? Please leave a comment!

Larry Norman, CTC, MCC is an icon in the industry. He has been a consultant to over 5,000 Home Based Travel Agents and trained an estimated 22,000 travel agents over his career. He was Travel Trade’s 1996 Travel Educator of the Year. Larry owned a four state network of 17 agencies, with annual sales of $28 million. Larry is known as “The Outside Sales Agent Expert” for his presentations on outside sales at Travel Trade Cruise-A-Thons, ASTA, ARTA and NACOA travel agent conferences among others. You can share your views with Larry at or leave a comment here.


  4 thoughts on “Are the cruise lines drifting away from the travel agent?

  1. Anne Gardner says:

    O, Larry – did you hit the nail on the head or what?? I remember the “good old days”!

  2. larry norman says:

    Anne, Thanks for your comment. I know I enjoyed the travel industry more back then and I sure miss visiting with all my cruise industry friends when we went out on the new ships…but the newer ships these days are even better…too bad some of the cruise line executives aren’t.

  3. V. Robinson says:

    Having read that same article re the May 12 Seabourn sailing, Larry and I came away with different perceptions. The lady in question on that cruise, was not ill. She was tired. Didn’t feel it necessary to attend the compulsory drill. Stayed in her cabin…against all good sense and rules that apply to everyone else. Just sayin’

  4. larry norman says:

    Sorry for my delay in seeing V. Robinson’s post. First, over the eight years I hosted a weekly two hour radio show on cruisng, I always reminded my listners that “They who own the ships, makes the rules!”

    That having been said, I feel common sense still goes a long way in increasing the satisfaction level of new and expereinced cruisers.

    I didn’t say the lady in question was right, just “tired” as she had a recent operation. The bigger point, is how many folks on board had booked three back to back cruises? Was that not worth some consideration?

    Smaller ship, same cabin and same life boat route. She had done the drill seven days before…what if had been four days before or two days before…where does common sense draw the line.

    And, I still contend tha Warren Titus would have found away to have her do a make up drill and keep them onboard for the next two cruises. Just my feelings….

Share your thoughts on “Are the cruise lines drifting away from the travel agent?”

You must be logged in to post a comment.