If you’re a travel advisor or an agency director, why not give your clients and staff a Christmas present that demonstrates that you have their interests first in mind. Many of us have helped clients make complete payments and place deposits on cruises that were cancelled. In many cases, the cruise lines have refused to return your clients funds.
When the nonsense of compelling clients to accept “Future Cruise Credits” (FCCs) in place of cash refunds started last spring, the common wisdom was that ships would be sailing by Thanksgiving and the cruise lines really needed the cash. Now it appears that our estimates for resuming cruising were off by 6-12 months or more, and the cruise companies have met their cash needs by selling off ships, laying off crew, getting additional financing, and issuing more stock. Judging by last week’s increase in cruise company stock prices, all of the “Big Three” will be COVID-19 survivors.
Their clients, on the other hand, are not faring nearly as well. Many have suffered from COVID-19, and it’s problematic how many will want (or be able) to cruise again. Others who owned small businesses have had to close their companies and are on the verge of bankruptcy. Many others are unemployed and have depleted their savings.
Some of the FCCs were issued as a substitute for cash refunds when clients canceled fully-paid cruises, or attempted to withdraw deposits, after U.S. State Department advisories said it was too dangerous to go to certain countries. The media chimed in by describing the ways in which ships such as the Diamond Princess were endangering their guests, crew members, and local populace. The cruise lines insisted that – even under these circumstances – no cash refunds would be given unless the cruise line officially canceled each cruise.
“Read the cruise contract,” they said.
It’s time for this fiction to end. In the face of indefinite delays in starting to cruise again, the contracts are probably null & void. It’s time for the cruise lines to stop treating FCCs as no-interest loans with an indefinite payback date. If you are a cruise advisor or agency head, it’s time that you hold the cruise lines accountable for the way they’ve been treating the clients who trusted them to behave honorably.
Last week, CDC advisories have specifically told all Americans to suspend cruising, regardless of where the cruises start and end. This advice was based on the cruise line’s lack of success this summer and fall in sailing coronavirus-free; the time needed to bring ships into compliance with required upgrades and regulations; and the increasing spread of the coronavirus throughout the nation and all over the world.
Despite the optimistic press releases and bargain offers, most experts acknowledge that safe cruising will depend on the percentage of guests, crew members, and people in the ports being visited, that are fully vaccinated. Safe flying will present similar challenges.
When will this happen? Ask yourself: If many Americans can’t cope with wearing masks and self-distancing, how long will it take before at least 70% of the U.S. population – and maybe 100% of guests and crew – are fully vaccinated?
If sufficient people don’t get vaccinated — or the vaccines prove not as effective as forecasted — the present freeze on cruising can last for a year or more. Future Cruise Credits are “pie in the sky” until cruising gets going again!
Now is the time to press cruise line representatives and district managers with requests for full refunds for everyone you’ve booked in 2020 who were given FCCs. Then call the clients and let them know of your efforts. Suggest that, unless they receive refund notifications within a week, they call the cruise line themselves and contact local TV News investigative reporters.
For anyone who is enjoying John Grisham’s new bestseller, The Litigators, it would not be surprising for tort lawyers to enter the fray and sue the cruise lines (and possibly you) for the return of clients’ funds, plus legal costs and punitive damages. Can’t happen? Just ask the coal companies and the pharmaceutical industry what’s happened to them.
If you can help your clients recover the monies they are owed, this will be the holiday present that they will remember forever. Whether or not they are turned off on cruising themselves, or whether your efforts are successful, they will be sure to let lots of others know about the efforts you made on their behalf and how the cruise line dealt with them.
Contact your clients and let them know that you truly care about them. Describe the extraordinary efforts you have made on their behalf. It’s the best way to wish them “Happy Holidays” this year.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’m one of the thousands of people who were forced to accept a Future Cruise Credit for more than $11,000 in place of the cash refund I requested from one of the top luxury small-ship lines.
Dr Steve Frankel and his wife have sailed on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships on more than 40 cruises. For the past six months, he has been writing a weekly column, Point-to-Point, for Travel Research Online (TRO) that’s shared with more than 70,000 travel advisors and industry leaders. Steve is the CEO of two companies: Travel Intelligence Associates (TIA), and Cruises & Cameras, LLC (C&C). TIA provides writing, consulting and White Box services. C&C specializes in small ship cruises and is associated with LUXE Travel (a FROSCH company) and the Signature Travel Network. Steve has a doctorate in Educational Research and Marketing from Indiana University, He is one of the first travel advisors to complete a five- course sequence of courses in epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. In his former life, he was the director of several organizations specializing in public policy studies. He’s the author of 13 books and a former Contributing Editor of The Washingtonian magazine. His email address is Steve@CruisesAndCameras.com.