Thursday, April 7, 2011

Australians Frustrated by Some Cruise Lines, etc. Protectionist (for the Local Travel Agents) Rules? Consider This!

I preface this article by stating that I do like the Oceania Cruises product and that much of the onboard experience is quite good.  But there have been growing cries of unfairness by Oceania Cruises as to how it treats some of its passengers.  It is, alas, not the onboard experience that creates the frustrations emanating from Down Under, but what it actually nothing more than marketing and protectionist gamesmanship. (The complaints are not only in relation to Oceania Cruises, but it seems to be the most difficult of the ones that enforce such tactics as a recent thread on Cruise Critic readily shows.)

I have clients in Australia and New Zealand (not that, as most people in the Northern hemisphere do, they are one and the same...they are distinctly different markets).  And, to be sure I have Australian and New Zealand clients that I have booked on Oceania Cruises, but there are huge restrictions put in place that make it virtually impossible to properly service Australians and Kiwis.  Why?

Let us first clear up one thing:  There are NO laws that prohibit non-Australian or New Zealand travel agents from selling cruises to Australians or Kiwis.  I have heard this from sources both inside and outside of Oceania's management and, to be sure, no one has ever directed me to such a law and I have been unable to find any. 

In fact, Goldring Travel is a non-resident member of The Australian Federation of Travel Agents and has a telephone number in Brisbane, Australia:  +61 7 3102 4685. Further, I am able to market to and sell, for example, Seabourn cruises to many Australians at prices available in the United States and upon United States terms and conditions.  Oh, and by the way, I lived in Brisbane, Australia and successfully owned, managed and operated a significant company for years.

What there is, however, is a concerted effort to protect the resident travel agents and selective pricing so that (a) the travel agent business in Australia especially grows; and, (b) so that pricing is fixed to be essentially non-competitive...again to protect not only the travel agents (higher priced cruises equal higher commissions), but the cruise line (higher priced cruises equals higher profits).  Who pays the price for this:  YOU, the Australian and New Zealand cruising public.

Goldring Travel sought membership in the International Cruise Council Australasia...noting it is not the ICC Australia, but Australasia...and I have been denied membership simply because I am not registered (yet) as a travel agency by a regulatory body in Australia.  It should be pointed out that the first time I attempted to register I was told it wasn't a rule, but it was being enforced that way.  Now there is a rule.  Coincidence?  I think not.

So from that I pause The International Cruise Council Australasia (ICCA) website states, in relevant part...and my comments in red:

The International Cruise Council Australasia is an association of leading cruise lines dedicated to the expansion and awareness of cruising worldwide Individual Travel Agency Members of the International Cruise Council Australasia are those most qualified to provide professional cruise information and reservations.  Wait a second! I don't think there is a cruise line out there - including Oceania Cruises - that would claim that Goldring Travel, or myself individually, is not one of the "most qualified to provide professional premium or luxury cruise information and reservations" in the world.  In fact, I would dare say that there may be but a handful of travel agencies in Australia that could honestly claim knowledge and experience that is even arguably equal to Goldring Travel.

A comprehensive Travel Agent training program is offered by the International Cruise Council Australasia, that was originally based on CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association - USA) Cruise Counsellor Certification Program. Enhanced to better reflect local market conditions the ICCA training has two levels of achievement...The Cruise Consultant Certification Program allows customers to recognize those dedicated agents who have developed extensive cruise industry knowledge and superior selling skillsGoldring Travel, and myself specifically, is a CLIA designated Elite Cruise Counselor with a Luxury Cruise Specialist Designation.  That is far more of an achievement than a member, a "certified cruise counsel" or an "accredited cruise counselor".  Look it up here and here I guess you can recognize it, but the ICCA shuts its eyes.  Why? 

International Cruise Council Australasia training is fully endorsed by the Australian Federation of Travel Agents.  Wait a Second...Again!  I am a non-resident member of the AFTA!  So the ICCA tauts that it's training is endorsed by the entity that I am a member of, but I can't be a member of it...substantively because why?

So Goldring Travel has a $1,000,000 Errors and Omissions Insurance Policy, is a member of the Better Business Bureau, is highly trained, extremely well experienced, has numerous international clients (including Aussies and Kiwis), has direct business experience in Australia and is a member of an important Australia trade association, but cruise lines like Oceania Cruises won't allow you to book your cruises with me and the ICCA won't allow me membership. 

Can you think of a single reason as to how that protects you, the consumer?

Can you think of a single reason as to how that allows you to book with the most knowledgeable travel agent?

Can you think of a single reason as to how that allows you to book with the travel agent that will give you the best service?

Can you think of a single reason as to how that allows you to book with the travel agent that has direct access to the cruise lines (rather than waiting days or weeks while an intermediary does it)?

Didn't think so.

My suggestions may be bold, but they are something to consider:  Complain to your legislators and book with cruise lines that allow you to be adults and choose the best travel agent rather than the ones that are not nearly as qualified, but who are protected...and then suffering through the incompetence, delays and misinformation forced upon you.

To be sure I am sure there are a few excellent Australian travel agents, but do you really want to have happen Down Under what has happened in the United Kingdom where a handful of travel agencies sell almost all of the cruises?  Not very consumer friendly, is it?

Goldring Travel's motto is, "Be Treated By Your Travel Agent As You Will Be Onboard!"  Ask your travel agent, "Have you ever even been onboard?"