Over the past few years, Carnival Cruise Lines has had their share of bad press. From fires, to the sinking of the Concordia, a sister line. And while their consumer press was bad, they weren’t doing a lot to endear themselves to their travel agent partners.
The alienation can almost be tied to the point where Bob Dickinson, former CEO, was replaced by Gerry Cahill in 2007. This was also followed by the surprising departure of Vicki Freed. While Dickinson and Freed were very cognizant of the “numbers” side of the cruise business, they also realized the importance of a vibrant agency channel of distribution.
Cahill was a numbers man and it showed. From an agency perspective, they made it more and more difficult to do business with them, or if we are being honest—to even like selling them. The pricing was erratic. The groups department was abysmal. There were so many different fare codes one wondered if we were selling cruises or airline seats. Commissions were reduced. Non Commissionable Fares were increased. Their personal vacation planners called our clients directly and tried to take our business. Their advertising referenced their toll free numbers and website only.
And agents noticed. To many, Carnival was the “go to” cruise line for customers seeking a great experience coupled with great value. Carnival used to be a cruise line that compensated its agents fairly and provided the support to see them succeed. But when the changes came, the travel community began to talk. The forums and online communities filled with tales of how difficult it had become to support Carnival. And their competitors noticed. While Carnival was backing away from agents, both NCL and Royal Caribbean kicked up their agent support significantly.
This time, Carnival noticed. The re-hired Bob Dickinson as a consultant and virtually immediately implemented “Carnival Conversations.” The conversations were frank discussions with agents about where, how, and why, Carnival had fallen from grace. And they listened.
The fare codes have been reduced from 7 to 3. Printed brochures are now available again. The call to action in their marketing is now being directed toward their agencies. Lynn Torrent, executive vice president of sales and guest services; and Joni Rein, vice president of worldwide sales who spearheaded the initiative admitted there was a problem and were recently quoted in Travel Pulse about how successful the program has been. They also cautioned that there is still work to be done.
Personally, I do not sell a lot of cruises; but many of my colleagues who do sell a lot have noticed a big difference. Like Rein and Torrent say, they agree that there is still a lot of work to do, but they are very encouraged.
No one ever wanted to not like Carnival; but it happened. And most importantly, Carnival again realized the value agents bring to the transaction. Carnival Conversations continue. More changes are inevitable. The Concordia has been righted. Has Carnival? What do you think? Have you seen a difference? What still needs to be done? Please leave a comment!