Cruise agents demand simpler technology and more aggregation

Cruise agents demand simpler technology and more aggregation

By Travolution
By Travolution

Travolution’s sister site Travel Weekly and Amadeus invited agents to discuss cruise technology o the day the GDS unveiled its Cruise Shop system

Agents bemoan lack of aggregation as lines steer trade to own systems

Agents are battling a lack of aggregation in the cruise sector as operators entice them to use their own in-house booking systems.

Amadeus Cruise Shop features most of the main cruise lines in the UK with the notable exception of Carnival UK’s brands: P&O Cruises, Cunard and Princess Cruises.Carnival UK trade arm Complete Cruise Solution pulled out of the Amadeus system in 2011 to save on distribution costs.

Amadeus hopes to entice lines back with a new trade platform developed with CWT Digital to give agents a one-stop shop to search for and compare product easily and quickly.

However, many lines are incentivising agents to use their own technology – resulting in agents switching between multiple systems to earn more commission.

This is slowing agents down, hampering their ability to compare deals and sell cruise and even putting some off selling cruise entirely, the round-table heard.

Paul Frost (pictured right), marketing director at Jetline Cruise, said: “Lines have pushed everyone away from Amadeus because they want to entice you to sell their product.

“This is no bad thing, but to ask an agent, who has a customer who does not know what they want, to log in to Norwegian Cruise Line, to Cruising Power for Royal Caribbean and Celebrity, to Complete Cruise Solution, to Polar for Carnival, well, no agent’s going to do that.

“To run an effective business you can’t have an agent spending three or four hours on one customer trying to find something when they don’t even know what they are trying to find. Agents are fighting against what should be a really simple process.”

Andy Stark, managing director of Global Travel Group, said: “There is aggregation for every other type of product but it seems to me there’s no aggregator for cruise.”

Frost said: “There used to be Amadeus, but cruise lines decided to invest money to keep the agents within their own framework.”

Cruise Shop has solved a key failing of existing systems, according to Frost.

Frost said one of the major failures of cruise booking systems is they do not enable agents to search for a selection of ports with the required dates.

“It will be interesting to see if Amadeus has solved this as this has been one of the biggest problems for agents,” he said.

“You can never ask an agent to make such a search. I would not want my agents to do that sort of enquiry because it would take them three or four hours and they would end up with nothing.”

Having been shown how the new Amadeus system enables a search by multiple destinations, Frost said: “You have just solved a huge issue the industry has.”

 



Quality of cruise content is key issue in battle for sales

Cruise operators could generate more sales through agents if they ensured the content they have on their own sites was available to the trade.

Leading agency consortium Advantage Travel Centres represents a wide range of cruise sellers, from Cruise.co.uk at one end of the market to single-brand high street stores at the other.

To help its members it has developed its own Gateway booking platform with Multicom.

But Claire Brighton, Advantage commercial account manager, said:

“All our agents are looking for some technology that would allow them to quote a cruise in a quicker way.

“We have built our own gateway and tried to put cruise lines on that. The issue is the content that you pull via XML has not got as much information as on their own sites.”

Dan Caplin, managing director of CWT Digital, said there was a wider issue with online content, with neither agents nor operators answering the questions people have.

“It’s the responsibility of cruise lines to get over what makes their product different. And agents need to get content online to change people’s perceptions.”

Jetline’s Frost said many deals loaded on to systems were overly complex, as cruise operators constantly tweaked offers and incentives to drive sales.

“At times there are five different options to book exactly the same cruise,” he said. “People just want simplicity.

“We are a reasonably-sized agent but we have to put huge resources in just to update our website because none of this comes through any technology feed.”

– See more at: http://www.travolution.com/articles/2013/10/11/7171/cruise-agents-demand-simpler-technology-and-more-aggregation.html#sthash.CV5Ni3sg.dpuf

Princess Cruises increases base rate commission

Princess Cruises increases base rate commission

By Lee Hayhurst

Princess Cruises increases base rate commissionPrincess Cruises has insisted its move to pay a basic upfront 10% commission on all bookings is not an admission that the move to a headline rate of 5% in 2011 was a mistake.

The Complete Cruise Solution brand has split from its fellow members of the Carnival UK trade arm by deciding to increase its basic agency payment for bookings for 2014 cruises.

Agents were told of the move this week, with UK director Paul Ludlow saying it came as a result of feedback from the trade.

He told Travel Weekly that despite Princess moving to the headline rate of 5% in 2011, along with P&O Cruises and Cunard, it was never actually that low due to other earning options.

Agents were able to earn an extra 3% on the cruise element when booking air through Princess (a so-called ‘air kicker’) and could also earn more by taking out a group deal.

However, these were both paid after sailing on a quarterly basis and Ludlow said agents told Princess they wanted a simpler arrangement so they know what their earnings will be.

“We were never at 5%,” said Ludlow. “We were always more than 5%, but we chose not to pay those commissions at the time of the booking.

“From the point of view of the sales consultant, they saw 5%, and we had feedback that agents liked the extra earning opportunities, but there was a degree of complexity and they wanted it simplified.

“For 2013 Princess is doing very well and we have our new ship Royal Princess coming into Southampton in a few months’ time.

“We are not making these changes for 2013, this is for 2014 onwards. So this is not a knee-jerk reaction because 5% has not worked. This is based on agent feedback.”

Under the previous groups programme, agents could earn up to 6.25% extra commission on the cruise element once they had made 16 bookings on a particular sailing.

This came in the form of a free tour-conductor place on the cruise or the equivalent monetary value – an average of the cruise value of the other 16 bookings.

Under the new arrangement, from March 14 both the air kicker and group programme trade incentive will be removed in favour of the 10% upfront payment.

Ludlow said the change should make selling Princess Cruises more attractive for all agents, even those who were good at exploiting the additional earning in the group programme.

“We are improving commission. From a travel agents’ perspective, they could earn more money at the time of bookings. For all agents this will be attractive,” he said.

Asked whether the move to 10% would risk reviving big discounting – something the move to 5% was meant to stamp out – Ludlow replied: “The changes that we are making aren’t about reneging on our 5%, it’s about simplifying the offering in the market.”

Ludlow said there were no plans for P&O and Cunard to follow Princess Cruises’ commission restructuring.

“P&O and Cunard have never had the complexity of the airline kicker and the group commission, so as they haven’t had that feedback regarding simplification, I don’t think there’s any need to make that change,” he said.

Ludlow said he had contacted a number of travel agents about the decision, and that feedback had been “very positive”.

CCS moots upfront commission payments for cruise sales

CCS moots upfront commission payments for cruise sales

By Melanie Hall

CCS moots upfront commission payments for cruise salesCarnival UK has revealed it is considering bringing forward commission payments to the time of booking rather than when the final balance is paid.

Giles Hawke (pictured), Carnival sales and customer services director, said the company was looking at revising its systems to implement the move.

However, he added: “I wouldn’t want to set any time scale.”

Hawke was speaking at a cruise round-table debate hosted by Travel Weekly and Carnival UK. Senior agency and tour operator figures at the event welcomed the potential move.

Chris Roe, sales and distribution director at Virgin Holidays, said receiving the commission upfront would make a “100% difference” to his business.

Miles Morgan, founder of Miles Morgan Travel, said: “It’s a step in the right direction from CCS for a change.”

The suggestion followed a discussion about agents being forced to pass customer payments straight to the cruise lines, which hits agencies’ cashflow.

Last year, Complete Cruise Solution, the trade arm for P&O Cruises, Cunard and Princess Cruises, contacted all larger agents whose customers are not yet paying its cruise lines directly to insist a plan is put in place to make the transition to direct payments, to remove any financial risk from its trade business.

“We have seen the collapse of Gill’s and Cruise Control,” said Roe.

“I can see why CCS is doing it, but it is tarring every agent and tour operator with the same brush.”

Hawke said that the company had a ‘bad-debt’ fund worth millions of pounds in case retailers went bust, 
but CCS had made a decision that it 
was not going to carry that financial 
risk any more. “No banks would give you cash for nothing,” said Hawke.

But Seamus Conlon, managing director of Cruise.co.uk, said: “The average agent has to pay staff. I’m increasing cashflow to create your deposits, which you then bank for a year. CCS is screwing up everyone’s income.”

CCS cut base commission to 5% in 2011, sparking cuts by other cruise lines.