It’s one thing to know that travel agent associations are lobbying the government on agents’ behalf. It’s another to actually hear it and see it in action.
TORONTO — While the Canadian government’s blanket warning to avoid all cruise ship travel has agents fielding a new wave of cancellations, a number of cruise lines are stepping up to protect commission on both the original booking and the future cruise credit booking.
Yesterday’s announcement from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) recommends that Canadians avoid all cruise ship travel due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. The new messaging is front and centre on the federal government’s travel advisory home page at travel.gc.ca.
Niche Travel Group owner Faith Sproule in Dartmouth, NS says her cruise clients are taking the new PHAC warning “very seriously.” Cancellations have been coming in. “People over the age of 60 are worried to go on a cruise and contacting the virus, people under 60 are worried about being under quarantine for two weeks.”
She commends the cruise lines for their flexible rebooking policies with future cruise credits and says clients are taking advantage of these offers. “I think that most ships will sail half full for the months of March and April.”
Cruise lines are doing the right thing by protecting commissions, says Sproule. “I just cancelled an $11,000 suite and these clients are 75 and may never travel on a cruise again.” She says “thank goodness” cruise lines seem to be stepping up with commission protection, especially for bookings like the $11,000 suite that involve “six months of planning, meetings, 50 plus calls and emails explaining dining, excursions, types of perks, gratuities.”
Brockville, ON travel consultant Mary Lynn Villeneuve with TravelOnly says she’s had one cancellation so far. The reason? Any agent dealing with cancellation requests will have no doubt heard this too: “Clients were more concerned about being quarantined on a ship for 14 days and not so much about getting sick.”
Consumers have seen a double dose of high-profile quarantined cruise ship stories in the coronavirus news cycle, starting with Diamond Princess off the coast of Japan in February and now Grand Princess off the coast of California.
The warnings against cruise travel from PHAC and the CDC in the U.S. “are going to have tremendous impact on the cruise industry,” she says.
Villeneuve adds that the cruise lines “have been exceptional to work with” amid the coronavirus panic.
“Common sense is not prevailing. When we look at the true statistics I would be more concerned about getting the common flu.”
She says interest could swing to domestic cruising on the Great Lakes. “It’s an emerging market and forecast to grow over the coming years with new ships coming. I think we could see a surge in North American cruising on the U.S. rivers and Great Lakes.”
Here’s a look at what some of the top cruise lines are saying, with more updates from other cruise lines sure to come …
Telling its travel agent partners that “we will continue to weather this storm together and are confident that calm waters are on the horizon,” Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. has enhanced its ‘Cruise with Confidence’ policy to include commission protection.
As reported yesterday RCCL’s ‘Cruise with Confidence’ allows clients to cancel bookings departing through July 31, 2020 up to 48 hours prior to their vacation start date and receive a Future Cruise Credit (FCC) valid on sailings through Dec. 31, 2021.
Initially RCCL says it planned to pay commission only on the future booking where the FCC is applied. Now the cruise line group, which includes Royal Caribbean, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara and Silversea, has updated that policy.
“Should clients elect to take advantage of the ‘Cruise with Confidence program’ and are opting for a Future Cruise Credit in the full amount paid, your earned commission will now be protected on both the cancelled booking and the future reservation where the FCC is redeemed,” says the company.
RCCL adds that the 48-hour condition remains unchanged and still applies.
“These are uncharted waters for the cruise industry as a whole, but our commitment to our travel partners remains steadfast,” says RCCL. “The current climate inspired us to be one of the first large ocean cruise lines to roll out a new temporary policy — one we believed was a win-win for everyone.
“Our intention was to protect you from a rush of clients cancelling their vacations, while instilling a sense of confidence in them by offering flexible solutions as we wait for this environment to improve.
“But we realize that our travel partners work way too hard to lose anything when circumstances like these are beyond our control. Our family of brands truly appreciates your valued partnership, just as we always have. We hope that our improved Cruise with Confidence policy is a testament to just that.”
Part of the RCCL group, Silversea announced separately that it too would be protecting commissions, on cancelled bookings made between March 9 and July 31, 2020.
This Silversea enhancement protects all bookings refunded through a future cruise credit under the ‘Cruise with Confidence’ program in which guests have made their final payment. Silversea says this enhancement is offered in addition to the Royal Caribbean Group’s ‘Cruise with Confidence’ program, in which guests with cruises departing March 9 – July 31, 2020 may cancel their voyages up to 48 hours prior to their sailing date and receive a Future Cruise Credit valid for two years after the date of issue.
Silversea says it is allowing agents to retain any commissions already paid, and pay commissions on bookings cancelled March 9 – July 31, 2020, after they were paid in full, provided the cancellation occurs outside of the 48-hour cancellation window outlined in the ‘Cruise with Confidence’ program.
Further, bookings made through redemption of these Future Cruise Credits will also be eligible for full commission based on the cruise value of the new booking.
“The current circumstances regarding the outbreak of Covid-19 novel coronavirus, which are out of our control, inspired Silversea and the Royal Caribbean Group to introduce this program,” says Mark Conroy, Silversea’s Managing Director for the Americas.
“We know our loyal travel partners are undoubtedly working particularly hard during these uncertain times, and it is important to all of us at Silversea that you are receiving your well-deserved compensation. We appreciate your partnership, and we could not succeed without your support.”
See silversea.com for all applicable terms and conditions.
Justin French, Carnival’s Regional Vice President, Canada and the Northern U.S., says Carnival will protect commission on all affected sailings. “This has been our normal policy for two or three years. We pay commission on the original booking and then commission again (full amount) when rebooking using a Future Cruise Certificate if it wasn’t a full refund.”
Carnival announced it would pay commission on FCCs back in July 2017. “Our team is always listening and looking for ways to offer the best sales and service support we can to travel agents and this commission enhancement is a reflection of that goal,” said Carnival’s Vice President of Sales & Trade Marketing, Adolfo Perez at that time. “We value the hard work travel agents put into booking their clients, which is why we’ve increased the commission for these types of bookings.”
Carnival earlier announced its flexible rebooking policy. In a March 6 letter Carnival outlined options for passengers booked between now and May 31, 2020, as well as incentives.
Passengers who choose to keep their booking as currently scheduled for departures between March 6 and May 31 will receive the following Onboard Credit (OBC) amounts (automatically applied) …
. $100 per cabin for 3 and 4 day cruises
. $150 per cabin for 5 day cruises
. $200 per cabin for 6 day and longer cruises
Passengers booked on Carnival Radiance’s European itineraries are facing some itinerary changes and will get their own special offer.
Carnival passengers who booked prior to March 6, 2020 for sailings through May 31 who want to change their plans can move their booking to a new date and receive an FCC in the amount of the non-refundable cancellation fee.
Passengers booked on sailings departing March 9 – 31 can move their booking to a future date up to three days before sailing.
Passengers booked on sailings departing April 1 – May 31 can move their booking to a future date by March 31. The FCC must be used for a sailing by March 31, 2021.