Kirk Cassels' Weekly Wrap of User Comments: July 6-9

Predators opens in theaters today. I hope the movie is to Predator as Aliens was to Alien— a highly entertaining sequel that does not complicate plot or toy with any franchise story lines. What does this have to do with the travel industry? Absolutely nothing (unless of course you want to send your clients on a vacation to the game preserve planet where the extraterrestial hunters stalk the characters played by Adrien Brody and Laurence Fishburne among others). But at least we are not discussing Lebron James' free agency decision to join the Miami Heat.

So now that you have some inspiration for what to do for entertainment this weekend, let's take a look at what agents and readers have been discussing as of late at

New Cruise Ship & Policy

It was a big week when it came to cruise industry news. Not only did a long-awaited ship make its debut, but one line is changing its advertising policy— which directly affects agents.

Norwegian Cruise Line's NCL Epic took to the waters of New York City last week, and our own David Eisen was on hand to check out the ship. While there, he spoke with Kevin Sheehan, CEO of NCL, about the new area for the cruise line. Although the focus of Eisen's story is Sheehan and NCL's future, one reader took the opportunity to comment about the new ship.

Rick Anderson wrote:
just got back from new york, crused over from london. it is the worst cruise ship i hav ever been on ! should be called pick your pocket. charges for everything,the only thing that saved 7 days of bordrum was the blues club and slam allen. pick anyother ship but this one.

That's disappointing to hear right off the bat about this ship. Are there any agents or readers out there who can report more positive news about the NCL Epic?

As much as Rick is none-to-pleased with NCL's new ship, it doesn't compare to the ire some agents are feeling about Carnival's new advertising policy. As Susan J. Young wrote, "the line won't tolerate any  rebating or price inconsistency in any communications— whether mass media or in personal discussions or -emails to guests, effective August 1." In short, agents will no longer be able to provide discount rates in order to entice clients as the cruise line attempts to shift the consumer's focus from price to value. Needless to say, several readers are furious.

There will be many companies that will not honor this plan. They will offer after cruise "rebates" or some other form of discounting. When a company competes on it's service and reputation rather than the lowest price in town it will be a better world for all agencies.

Steve asked:
Will this also apply to Carnival's Personal Vacation Planners who often go out of their way to contact our clients and then undercut us?

JD added:
From the articel: “... the traveling public seems to have zero loyalty to an agency and will book elsewhere for a bottle of wine or an extra coupon booklet."
That _is_ the reality. Customers DO haggle. They DO shop around and often decide based on price. They do change their mind if they can book elsewhere for $5 less. (I've seen it happen!)
Carnival - NOT just agents - would be wise to invest in educating current/prospective clients on the VALUE of the cruises they sell, then shine a great big PR light on the effort.
Look to Apple's web site for a shining example, albeit for consumer electronics. (They also use level pricing across the board.)

Frustrated Independent Agent wrote:
Make no mistake: This _is_ being done in order to get direct business.
It is going to be very difficult for an independent agent like myself to offer perks up front (which customers continue to DEMAND - don't kid yourself). I don't care how often clients praise and refer me for my service and reputation. It means nothing if I have to use increasing amounts of out of pocket expenses in an abnormally cash-flow poor economy.
Bottom line, this does _not_ make it any easier for agents like me to sell, no matter how I slice it.
Very annoyed and frustrated, even more so because I really do like Carnival's cruise offerings. "Insert rock and hard place here!" :(

Cruiselady commented:
So Carnival listened to the 'big guys'. They have the deep pockets to book a lot of group space thus offering lower fares and perks, that we can't match unless we discount. This is just a way to weed out the little guys and strengthen the 'big guys' Sad.

Rich Skinner stated:
Relying on rebating is a sure formula for failure. Selling cruising as a commodity is also a formula for failure. Value added service is the only way to succeed. Carnival will sell direct, but let them have all of those money-losing 3 and 4 day cruises. We need customers not disloyal price shoppers.

Cruise rebating was a hot topic of discussion at in December and it looks like the issue is back in the spotlight. Many agents have been discussing the issue in real time via a discussion thread at AgentNation and we encourage you to join in.

AMEX's New Benefits?

When we reported on American Express' new advertising policy that evokes the importance of travel agents, it seemed like a great thing for those who sell travel as a profession. However, one reader appears to be confused about the policy, citing the company's previous strategies.

Tharwat Abouraya, CTIE posted:
During Roger Ballou’s leadership at AMEX, the strategy was not to compete with travel agencies in selling travel. AMEX has two arms: 1) seller of travel products & services; 2) issuer of cards which travel agencies accept for payment. The thinking was that non-AMEX travel agencies pay merchant fees to AMEX Card, therefore, AMEX should not compete for their travel revenue at the same time. It is fine for AMEX to promote its card and its benefits, but the call to action in the new ad campaign should say 'book with your travel agent and use your AMEX Card,' not just 'book with your AMEX travel agent.' Was Roger wrong?

I don't know. But maybe a reader out there does and can shed some light?

So You Don't Have to Turn the Car Around

Summer vacations, which are supposed to take us away from the trials and tribulations of the real world, can be so easily ruined if unhappy little travelers invovled. That's why ASTA released tips on traveling with kids, to ensure a smooth journey. In response, some readers have provided extra advice and feedback on the topic.

Eleanor Anderson wrote:
Make sure to have snacks and your own water. I take empty plastic water bottle and fill up at water fountain instead of paying $2.50 a bottle especially when taking children. You never know if your going to get stuck on the tarmac.

Angela Miller shared:
We started traveling with our children when they were 2 and 3 years of age - first to the Virgin Islands where we took advantage of kids clubs - then later to Europe. By the time the kids were 10 and 11, they had been to Europe three times and were experienced travelers and we had learned how to be parent travelers. We had much happier travels once we gave them a chance to offer their input in the planning of the trip. Even as pre-teens they each had an idea of the kinds of sights that interested them. By giving them a chance to include these in our schedule, we were able to keep them both happy and interested.  But we found it was also very important to include some down time and play time. A park visit, hike to castle ruins or rides on a merry-go-round can do a lot to make kids feel like they are getting in some play time. And some evenings with TV and room service can also go a long way. Traveling with kids can be rewarding, fun and educational for all.

Nice to see that Angela has mastered the process on traveling with little ones. Hopefully agents can take her story as a solid example when communicating clients. As for Eleanor (are you related to Rick?), great idea with the bottled water, especially regarding tarmac delays (a recent nightmare for travelers).

Safety & Security on Airlines

Since 9/11, and even more so since the attempted bombing of an aircraft this past Christmas, airline security has been a touchy subject among agents and consumers. We found a Travel Leaders study last April that claimed most travelers were okay with the security process, but apparently wimpie is not one of those travelers. He/she wrote:

I have traveled about 20,000 miles by car this year to avoid the TSA Gestapo and their Nude-O-Scopes of Cancerous Death machines. This represents about $5000 or lost revenue for the airlines, and I know I am not alone. TSA is gonna screw the airlines - Good for them.

Wow, someone really hates to fly, eh? I understand the frustration with the process and the concern about the invasion of privacy, but to compare this to the Gestapo is a little extreme. That's the same language politik nut jobs used during the health care reform debate, insinuating that people would be ripped from their beds and marched to death camps. You definitely have a point, wimpie, but take it easy on the paranoia.

On safety matters, not necessarily security matters, there's another story generating some buzz this week as Irish low cost carrier Ryanair is ready to launch flights where passengers stand instead of sit. Innovative or insane? Mj Lunden believes that latter, asking:

Are they crazy?

Yes, I think Ryanair is crazy. They've discussed charging for use of the toilet, offering smokeless cigarettes and have considered charging a "fat tax" to overweight customers. But are they crazy like a fox or crazy like a loon? You tell me.

Again, Back Up Your Claim

The ability to comment on articles here at represents how the Internet can truly celebrate the right to free speech as well as accelerate conversations on meaningful topics. Of course, with great opportunity comes, well, open questions. When Meagan Drillinger recently reported on the new Eventi, A Kimpton Hotel, one reader appears to be upset at the information posted.

Dani wrote:
Your information is all wrong with regards to the restaurant and food parc may want to have the right facts before you run a story!!!!!
this coming from someone who actually knows what is happening..

Here we go again. A bold statement with no information to support it. Dani, maybe you are right about incorrect information. But, as someone who "actually knows what is happening," why aren't you sharing the correct information? You have an opportunity here to open up what may or may not have gone wronge by backing your statement with this insider's knowledge you claim to have. Yet, you don't provide any, which makes you look like a jackass.

I always invite feedback. But if you are going to make claims without  backing it up, please don't waste our time.

As always, the conversation never ends here. Post comments below or at any of the cited articles (among others). Send a tweet to our Twitter page (@travelagentmag). Write us at our Facebook page. Join the conversation in real time at AgentNation, the only online social community for all kinds of travel agents.

Until next week...

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