Despite the optimism of the travel trade publications, you only need to look at the stock prices of the major cruise lines to see what’s happening in cruising. Compared to a year ago:
- Carnival stock is down by 61%
- Norwegian is down by 56%
- Royal Caribbean is down by 55%
A drop in stock prices doesn’t reflect past woes. It predicts what analysts think companies will be earning in 3-6 months. Morgan Stanley’s Jamie Rollo outlined a worst-case scenario in which Carnival stock could fall to $0 during a global economic downturn.
“If there is a demand shock that causes trip cancellations or weak bookings … liquidity could quickly shrink,” Rollo wrote in a report last Wednesday.
While we can’t do much to prevent catastrophes, we can improve travel advisors’ financial health and resiliency—ensuring they survive by improving their cash flow, reducing their debt, and providing them with new business opportunities.
“We Pay Commissions within 21 Days of Full Payment”
This ad isn’t a travel advisor’s dream; it’s an actual offer that Scenic Cruises made last week in the trade press. For all cruises sold on Scenic, or Emerald, riverboats, and Scenic Ellipse small ships, travel advisors will be paid their full commission within 21 days of the cruise line’s receiving total payments on cruises at least six months out.
“The Advance Commission Program, the initiative, which runs through the end of 2022, is designed to help advisors with their cash flow at a time that many are still finding challenging.”
The Scenic river cruises are “all-inclusive” and include amenities such as complimentary alcoholic beverages, butler service, and use of electric bikes. The Scenic Ellipse small ships offer guests the opportunity to explore their surroundings in each ship’s mini-submarine and two helicopters.
Like an increasing number of cruise lines, Scenic requires total payments not long after deposits are due. This ensures Scenic’s cash flow and discourages cancellations. With most guests paying with credit cards, this isn’t considered an undue burden. Viking uses similar payment schedules but doesn’t pay travel advisors more quickly than others. Both cruise lines urge guests to buy Cancel for Any Reason insurance (CFAR) in case things go wrong before embarkation.
The Advance Commission Program will likely be a game-changer for many travel advisors and other companies. Cruise lines that don’t adopt this practice will probably lose a great deal of their business. Travel advisors will ask themselves:
‘Let’s see, would I rather scan the cruise destinations and schedules of lines where I have to wait close to a year to get paid, or would I prefer Scenic, where I can get my commission within 21 days of my clients making full payment?’
Since the host agencies will also benefit from early commissions, they too may encourage this trend.
Earn Five-Figure Paydays by Selling, Leasing, and Renting Condos at Sea
The apparent success of Storylines in selling condos at sea on the MS Narrative is sure to attract lots of imitators, if the ship sells out and sails on schedule in 2024. The Narrative is a new ship that is purpose-built for owners and renters. Its itineraries will be opportunistic. While the significant stops will be determined years in advance and designed to circle the globe every 2-3 years, local port stops will be chosen by vote of those on board voting much closer to the debarkation dates.
But when you think of the Crystal ships that were sold for bargain prices ($25 million for the Crystal Symphony and $103 million for the Crystal Serenity) because of Genting Hong Kong’s bankruptcy, it’s not hard to imagine that condo conversions and rentals will become a booming business by the mid-2020s. What better source for “seagoing realtors” than the travel advisors who knew these ships intimately in their earlier lives?
Since new owners and leasers are permitted to rent their condos out, this will permit a “double-income stream” for advisors who can generate income by selling the condo or long-term leasing it to their clients—and then renting it out to other clients for many years. Since most residences may sell in millions or rent in the hundreds of thousands of dollars for 12-year or 24-year leases, five-figure paydays may become commonplace.
Booking Coastal Cruises May Become the Largest Jackpot of All
In many parts of the world—including the US—selling coastal cruises is not a significant part of the cruise industry. There are few regions where coastal cruises that visit smaller ports are frequent. In the United States, for instance, only a few cruise lines explore the Chesapeake Bay, Puget Sound, Gulf Coast, New England, or the Inland Waterway. Coastal cruising is viable in all these areas, and the infrastructure of restaurants, small hotels, B&Bs, medical facilities, fuel depots, and provisioning companies is already in place. Until now, many have been underutilized.
This is about to change. A dozen coastal catamarans are being built for American Cruise Lines for delivery starting next year. As their press releases say, this will “more than double” the US inventory of coastal cruising vessels.
“Like other American Cruise Lines new builds, all 12 will be built by Chesapeake Shipbuilding in Salisbury, Maryland. Each will be 241 feet long, 56 feet wide, and accommodate 109 passengers and 50 crew. The company said the hybrid catamaran design will enable both shallow draft access and stable sailing along lakes, rivers, bays, and the US coastline.”
If the idea catches on, the size of this fleet could easily double each year as more companies get into the fray. Coastal cats could replace European and Asian river boats. Why? Coastal cats have many more places to go when rivers rise or fall, or political situations worsen. The ships also can be transported halfway around the world with “sail-on, sail-off transport vessels” that now carry huge yachts.
Coastal cats can efficiently serve the west coast of the US during spring and summer and move to Australia for the rest of the year; or they can be based in the Chesapeake Bay during the spring and fall, New England during the summer, and then flee southwards with the “snowbirds” for winter. Their cruising season can be 52 weeks a year. In Europe, a fleet of coastal cats can be based in Great Britain and Iceland during the summer and then move to the Med the rest of the year.
In places such as Key West, where “cruise ship” is a dirty word, the coastal cruisers will be welcome since they will add to the local economy, have a minimal environmental impact, and won’t dump thousands of tourists in town for only a few hours. By 2030 coastal cruising cats will likely be found on every continent and they will generate a large share of many travel advisors’ business. They may impact sea travel as significantly as propellors vs. sails.
If stock prices accurately forecast the future of the cruise industry, it means things must change since the amount of debt the companies have taken on is absolutely crippling. We can try to do this by raising prices and giving guests less, or we can innovate by adopting the kinds of changes listed above. What these kinds of innovations have in common is that they will improve travel advisors’ cash flow and income, and stimulate sales across the industry.
Dr. Steve Frankel and his wife have cruised on most of the Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal, Azamara, Oceania, Regent, and Windstar ships. Steve is the founder of Cruises & Cameras Travel Services, LLC. He has been recognized as a “2021 Top Travel Specialist” by Conde Nast Traveler magazine and a “Travel Expert Select “by the Signature Travel Network. His specialties are luxury small-ship cruises and COVID-19 safety measures, and has a doctorate in Educational Research with minors in Marketing and Quantitative Business Analysis. He’s also earned a Certificate in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University. Previously, he managed qualitative and quantitative research in the private & public sectors. He’s a member of the Los Angeles Press Club, and has written 13 books and hundreds of articles. His email address is email@example.com.