In the interest of moving this discussion forward
- I provide my opinion on an important cruise matter - Paul Motter.
Direct Selling by Cruise Lines?
You may not know it, but a storm is brewing in the cruise community. Travel agents claim that cruise line direct sales agents are taking their customers.
Here is the background...
The travel agent profession has already been eroded by travel suppliers cutting out the middle man. The airlines stopped paying travel agent commissions in the 1990s. If you book a flight through an agent today, even a travel portal like Expedia, you are likely paying a small service fee - but it is worth $5 to have the ability to quickly compare prices and schedules from several airlines simultaneously.
The travel agents who remain in business moved to selling spas and cruises that fully pay the agents' commissions - but here is the problem; cruises are complicated and the travel agent that sells a customer his first cruise generally spends hours answering questions before that sale happens. That is called "acquiring a customer."
The cruise lines needed the travel agent community to educate the public on the intricacies of cruise vacations for decades - and the travel agents knew that if they did their jobs well they had a customer for life. The customer benefits from the agent's unbiased knowledge of several competing products and has an advocate and trouble-shooter should anything go wrong with the vacation. The cruise lines pay all of the commissions and guarantee the customer the same price.
So, why would anyone not use a travel agent to book a cruise? Chalk it up to human nature.
A lot of buyers have an inherent mistrust of middlemen and prefer to go directly to the source. That wouldn't be a problem if all the cruise lines respected the customers who prefer travel agents (some lines, like Costa America, do not sell directly to customers) - but that is not happening.
Instead, we are seeing cruise lines hiring direct sales agents working on commission who are taking the personal information you supplied to secure your passage and bypassing your travel agent to contact you directly.
I booked a cruise through my travel agent last summer and before I even sailed I received a phone call from someone at the cruise line claiming to be my "personal cruise consultant." She asked if I was ready to book my next cruise, before I had even sailed on the cruise I had booked. After my cruise I received another call from the same stranger asking how my cruise went. Call me crazy, but that felt intrusive to me.
Why? Let me relate my other unsolicited sales call in the last year. My wife ordered a natural sleep aid (hint: it contains three well-known natural sleep inducers) from a television commercial. Two months later I received a phone call from a guy asking if I needed to refill my "natural manhood enhancement cream." It turns out the same company sells both products and they don't keep very good records.
That's the nature of telemarketing - which the cruise lines are now doing. This cruise line agent called three more times, post-cruise, before she gave up. I should have asked whether my travel agent knew she was calling me, if the price would be the same, etc. But I didn't because I knew what she would say.
"We have your agent's name on record, and if you book a cruise now your agent receives her commission." Every cruise line claims they say this - and it is probably true that if I mention my agent they pay her a commission - though I could only test it by booking another cruise.
But what if I failed to mention my agent, would this salesperson give away her commission? We have readers claiming the cruise line sales people are not asking about your agent and they are even saying they have special prices no travel agent can match.
Who should we believe? I am a big believer in keeping my proprietary personal buying habits my own business. The cruise lines say they are only fulfilling consumer demand for direct buying, but like that male enhancement cream sales call I never requested direct contact from anyone - just the opposite.
I only gave this cruise line my personal information because they say I am legally obligated to do so to board the ship. They took it and contacted me with a sales call. That is a conflict of interest for me and my travel agent.
To win back my confidence the cruise lines should tell me what information they are keeping about me post-cruise. And absent my permission, they should only contact me through my chosen personal representative - my travel agent.
Now - let's be honest. The cruise lines are not the first businesses to cut out the middleman, that's as old as money itself. But for the record - many of us consider unsolicited sales calls to be sleazy. If you call me after my cruise to ask how it went and you mention my travel agent by name that is one thing. But if you call me before I even sail with you to ask if I am ready to book another cruise then you are no different from that other telemarketing call I mentioned.
Discuss Cruise Line Sales Calls here.
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