Wednesday, June 18, 2008

An International Experience - Travel Agents That Is!

One of the most curious, and antiquated, aspects of the travel business is the protectionist approaches of various cruise lines.

In this world of international travel and essentially boundary-free internet access, many cruise lines slice up the market so that American travel agents are prohibited from selling cruises to residents of the United Kingdom, Australia, etc. Americans really do not experience this sort of anti-competitive behavior because there is not a single cruise line that prevents a New Jersey travel agency from selling a cruise to a California resident...and, as I will discuss, there are very few non-United States travel agencies that can economically compete with a strong American-based one.

I figure the reasons are varied and relate to trying to protect the smaller-in-number European and Australasian agencies; to allow for more profitable (i.e. higher) pricing overseas (since the US dollar is so weak at the moment); to work within industry practices virtually unheard of in the United States due to, in large part, competition (such as hefty cancellation fees charged by the agency...not the cruise line, padding of pricing through made-up fees, etc.), etc.

Some cruise lines may have initially balked at international competition, but some, like Seabourn, have said essentially, "We have international clientele and we are a worldwide company, so why should we do anything but support international travel agents?"

Regent Seven Seas also takes a similar approach. Surprisingly, however, its sister company, Oceania Cruises has a protectionist policy that I have, fortunately, been able to work around.

Cunard has a similar protectionist policy, but doesn't really seem to enforce it. Absent a bit of "slight of hand", an American agency might have problems booking one of its UK clients on Royal Caribbean or Celebrity Cruise Lines.

From my perspective, competition can only be a good thing.

One cruise line executive asked me, "Well, do you want UK travel agents competing with you here in the U.S.?"

My response, "I already compete with the biggest agencies in the world, so why would I want to prevent that competition? The end result is the agency with the better service, better experience, and solid pricing will probably get the lion's share of the business...and that means the client (the cruise line's passengers) will ultimately have a better experience even before they get on the ship. Everyone that should win does. Who loses? The agency that isn't providing the cruise line's passengers with the same positive experience you (the cruise line) strives to provide them once they walk up the gangway."

And that is from where my motto (or mission statement) was born: "Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!"