It can come as a surprise when a cruise line (or two) closes up shop, cancelling future cruises, and stranding current cruise passengers. That is what recently happened with both Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery when their parent company (All Leisure Holidays Group) announced it was going out of business that day without any warning. Usually there are telltale signs, but not always.
We have had cruise companies shut down before; Cruise West comes to mind. But travel agents had an inkling something was going on. When commission checks aren’t sent in a timely manner, and calls about where the commissions are go unanswered, that’s usually our first clue. When a supplier suddenly starts pushing for cash payments instead of credit card payments, when that hasn’t been a payment practice of theirs in the past, that raises huge red flags. Clients who pay by credit card (not debit cards) have a recourse with the credit card company to get their money back. Paying a supplier with cash is never a good idea.
Whether we saw the writing on the wall, or were caught off guard, travel agents have an opportunity to shine. Our first chances to shine are when clients initially book their vacation. First, recommending they pay with a credit card (not a debit card) provides them the extra protection that comes into play if a supplier declares bankruptcy or goes out of business before the clients travel. Second, recommending a travel insurance policy that covers supplier bankruptcy can be invaluable as well. Usually this is a benefit if clients buy their insurance policy within a prescribed amount of time (i.e. within two weeks of making their initial trip deposit).
Once a supplier ceases business, travel agents can step in and make a difference. If the clients haven’t traveled yet, we can guide them through the process of disputing the charges on their credit card. Then we can help them make alternate travel plans for the same time frame.
Then there are the clients stranded mid-vacation. With the abrupt cessation of business of Swan Hellenic and Voyages of Discovery, approximately 400 passengers were stranded in Malaysia and Marseille. Clients that book directly with a cruise line may be left to fend for themselves, where those booked with a travel agent still have someone available to help them. And of course, travel insurance plays a major role in the ease of helping clients salvage a vacation when they are stranded far from home.
Have you ever had clients directly affected by a supplier bankruptcy or cessation of service? Tell us how you helped them in the comments below.
Susan Schaefer is the owner of Ships ‘N’ Trips Travel located in Tennessee, and specializes in leisure travel with a focus on group travel and charity fundraisers. Through their division Kick Butt Vacations, she focuses on travel for 18 to 23-year-olds. Susan can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (888) 221-1209.