Thinking of taking a cruise, and planning to book your holiday through a travel agent? Don’t be surprised if she (or he) tries to persuade you to choose a different ship from the one you originally had in mind.
Independent agents are locked in a war with cruise lines over the commission they receive for taking bookings, and some have said they will actively drive business away from companies which have recently cut their rates.
CCS, the umbrella organisation handling bookings for P&O, Cunard and Princess last year reduced its commission from 15 to 5 per cent, hoping to reduce the opportunities for agents offering unauthorised discounts.
Within the past few days, both Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean International, which also operates Celebrity and Azamara, have cut their commission to 10 per cent.
Now Advantage Travel Centres and The Travel Network Group, which together account for around £350m worth of cruise sales each year, are advising their combined network of more than 1,500 agencies to sell alternative cruise lines instead.
Julia Lo Bue-Said, of Advantage, said: “If a customer requests a particular ship, the agent will make that sale, but good agents can use their product knowledge and business acumen to recommend alternatives that are right for the customer but also right for them as a business. There is always an opportunity to switch sell, providing it works for the customer.”
Reader Offers Ltd, which reacted to the CCS discount cut by ending promotion of the three cruise lines which had accounted for 45 per cent of its business, saw turnover fall by 7 per cent but profits rise by 50 per cent, from £1.33 million to £2.15 million.
Managing director Jeremy Dickinson said: “It is of paramount importance that cruise is sold correctly. Discounting doesn’t sell any more holidays for the cruise lines, it just moves it around among agents who have no other message – anyone can sell £1 for 90p,”