More than 94 percent of travel agents polled in a TravelAgentCentral.com survey say the cruise industry performed well or did a reasonable job during the hurricane issues of the past month. Less than six percent of agents felt the industry's response was so-so or unacceptable.
Seventy-three agents took the seven-question Survey Monkey poll late last week. Here's a look at top results:
Handling of Hurricanes Harvey/Irma
Our survey asked: “How well do you think the cruise lines handled the announcements about Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma changes in their itineraries/boarding/upcoming cruises over the past week and in notifying travel agents and consumers?"
Responses were as follows:
- Generally, the cruise lines did a pretty good job. There were a few issues, but overall, I was very satisfied: 51.39 percent
- Yes, the cruise lines did an excellent job. It was a perfect response: 43.06 percent
- It was so-so. Overall, I think the cruise lines could have done a bit better: 4.17 percent
- No, the cruise lines' response was unacceptable: 1.39 percent
Effective Problem Solving, or Not?
When we asked those same agents who specifically had a problem or issue involving a client’s booking during the hurricane periods about whether the cruise line handled that issue well, this is what the survey showed:
- Yes, my issue or question was handled very well: 69.23 percent
- Generally, it was handled well, although there was room for improvement: 17.31 percent
- No, my issue or question was really not handled well: 13.46 percent
Feedback? Rob Clabbers of Q Cruise + Travel, Chicago, reported that “communication via e-mail, Facebook and other channels was better than in previous incidents." He also felt some lines, including Norwegian Cruise Line, were very quick in updating info and letting consumers and agents know which future cruises, if any, would be rerouted, although others didn't.
Mary Jean Thompson, a Virtuoso agent with TravelDesigns by Campbell, Dallas, TX, had clients on Royal Caribbean International’s Liberty of the Seas sailing on August 20. They were slated to return to the Port of Galveston on August 27, but that port was closed. She says they were, alternatively, rerouted to Miami -- and were given an option to disembark or to return back to Galveston.
“My clients stayed onboard and they were very complimentary of the captain and staff in how they graciously handled all the passengers,” said Thompson.
Rhonda Day, Dream Vacations, Louisville, KY and many others said the cruise lines' responses to the emergency situations were "perfect."
Peggy Rosenthal, another Dream Vacations franchise owner in Bella Vista, AR, says “Carnival did an excellent job with the ships out of Galveston, through rerouting and extending,” and she had communications from both Carnival Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean leading up to, and during, Hurricane Harvey.
From the perspective of Amy Madson, an independent agent with Cruises Inc., Orlando, FL, “the cruise lines went above and beyond. They allowed people who didn't have flights to stay onboard and [they also] took care of team members. All cruise lines had regular updates both via email and on their websites.”
Room for Improvement Too
But not all agreed. One agent, who wished to remain anonymous, had this perspective about the Hurricane Harvey response at Galveston: “It seems like Carnival and RCCL were waiting each other out to make the first move [on what they would do with departing and arriving cruises]. Carnival made their announcement as soon as RCCL made theirs."
That agent believed the announcements were thus way too late and caused much more drama and stress than they needed to. She said “public image was definitely tarnished because both companies waited so long to make a decision.”
Many cited "the process" as needing a bit of tweaking. For example, “my Texas-based clients were unable to get to the Galveston port after Harvey, and rather than refunding them, Carnival has requested residency documentation,” noted Debby Hughes of Hughes, Vernon & Associates - Dream Vacations, Big Bear City, CA. As of late in the week, she had not yet heard back whether a refund will be issued and Hughes notes, that “it seems the cruise line may have created more work for themselves handling it this way.”
While Janel Fidalgo of Janel Fidalgo Agency LLC, Ware, MA, an Avoya Travel member agency, said a hurricane-related issue she had with a cruise line was handled very well, Sheri Mruz, another Avoya member in Ocala, FL, who generally felt the lines did a good job in handling things with some room for improvement, said this about an issue she had with Carnival: "It was awful how they initially handled it."
Steve Faber of CruiseOne, felt the “cruise lines were ill-prepared for guest handling solutions that are outside the ‘everyday processing box.’” He specifically had an issue with Carnival Conquest’s eastern Caribbean voyage on September 9, and was still waiting for resolution at the time he took this survey.
On thread we heard from many agents was that the lines should have included travel agents in itinerary change notifications. Or, as one agent said: “Everything seemed to go direct to clients.”
Impact on Business
Despite several weeks of visual images and news coverage of the two destructive storms, and news reports about changes to itineraries and damage in the Caribbean, Texas and Florida, it appears cancellations for upcoming voyages are not many.
In our survey, agents reported:
- None of my clients booked on upcoming cruises have cancelled: 77.94 percent
- I have had just one client cancel: 10.29 percent
- I have many clients booked on upcoming cruises who have cancelled: 1.47 percent
When asked what clients booked on upcoming cruises think about the changes from eastern to western itineraries or to ports other than what they originally chose for their vacation, here are the results:
- They are disappointed or upset, but understand the necessity: 56.94 percent
- Other (variety of examples): 25 percent
- They are just fine with the changes. No problem whatsoever: 12.50 percent
- They are very upset and may cancel: 5.56 percent
Among the comments were these:
“I have a particular client that was inquiring about an upcoming cruise with a visit to St. Maarten in 2018, said Lourdes Henesy, Cruise Planners - Rotonda West, FL. “I told her that if the place is uninhabitable, the cruise lines obviously will not stop there and would change their itinerary.” Henesy said the client was contemplating canceling but later decided to leave the booking as it is.
For a look at many more of these survey results and comments from these and other agents who took our survey, look for another story later this week.