Agent Outlook: Cruising Today

Everybody's got an opinion nowadays, from politicians to pundits, food critics to color commentators, Ebert to Roeper—the list is exhaustive.

Ships calling on more exotic locales, such as Seychelles (pictured) are helping agents' bottom line

In the travel community, travel agents hold court as the seers of speculation—at times praising one facet while upbraiding another. When your livelihood depends on the workings of others, it's no wonder that strong viewpoints are often evoked. 

This is most evident in the world of cruising, where policy changes, ship introductions, new itineraries and fare fluctuations keep agents on their toes day in and day out. We asked agents what puts a smile on their faces when they are awake and what keeps them up at night with worry.

Higher Prices, Better Profits

Jeff Kivet, CEO and chairman of CruiseValueCenter in East Brunswick, NJ, is most impressed with the cruise lines' ability and focus on finding more exotic ports of call. Not only is it advantageous for cruisers in general, it, too, tends to pump up per diems and commissions.

"When a line moves a ship to somewhere new in Europe," says Kivet, "it makes revenues better and a better experience for clients. The lines have made a strong attempt to replace the 'blah-blah' with ports they've never been to before."

European destinations such as Portofino, Italy have been a "gold mine" for agents

Danny Miller should know; he's been working in the industry for more than half a decade and is currently the director of vacation travel for Brookline, MA-based Cleveland Circle Travel. "There are so many cruises now," he says, "with a really great choice of itineraries."

While higher prices translate into better profits, Joan McCarty, owner of Specialty Travel in St. Petersburg, FL, is most impressed about modest pricing in Europe. "I'm really pleased with it," she says. "Carnival, for instance, has a price point that middle America can afford. Europe has really been a gold mine."

E-Ticketing: Losing Personal Touch With Clients

McCarty is happy about that; electronic documents, on the other hand, are a whole different can of worms.

Jeff Kivet

Many cruise lines have migrated from issuing paper documents to e-ticketing, in an effort to provide an easier and more accessible method for guests to obtain their documentation. Princess Cruises led the shift when it went paperless last September; other cruise lines soon followed suit.

To McCarty, it's just another mechanism that is proving to widen the void between agent and client.

"I don't like that clients are having to go online to print out tickets," she says. "It's causing a problem because it's another way we are losing the personal touch. The more you can touch your clients, the better."

For example, when mailing cruise tickets to clients, she will often accompany them with personal bon voyage notes.

Agent and Cruise Line Relations

McCarty does admit that e-docs cut down on office costs ($16 a pop in her case). But Bill Jacob, owner of Reid Travel in Boca Raton, FL, is less impressed.

"I think it's very shoddy," he bluntly says. "It wouldn't cost the cruise lines much to send them to us." That aside, Jacob doesn't have many other complaints. "Everything is wonderful," he says of the current state of the cruise industry.

As for the relationship between the cruise lines and travel agents, CruiseValueCenter's Kivet hopes that the lines don't alienate the agents.

"Some think they can go along without the agents," he says, "and replace sales guys with numbers guys. I understand that it's corporate America, but you can't be fair-weather friends," Kivet opines.

He cites the travel industry's reaction to the attacks of September 11, when travel agents banded together and helped bring back the cruise industry.

"When agents are called upon, we produce," Kivet says.

As for the tools being developed to help ease the work of agents, Chad Burt, chief technology officer of Cruises & Tours Unlimited in Jacksonville, FL, says he is happy with the enhancement of the electronic tools, such as improved booking applications.

Money matters still concern him and he would like to see less competition between cruise lines to keep prices up. "When I see some of these rates, I can't stand to sell them," he says. "It's tough being nickel and dimed by the consumer. Pricing would be better with less competition."

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