Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Not Everyone Can Be a Travel Agent

There's been an open secret in the cruise industry for a long time. Companies have marketed "credentials" to allow individuals to become "travel agents" and supposedly receive free or discounted travel. Most of the people who buy into this are only interested in travel benefits and have no interest in actually selling travel, except possibly a trip here or there to a friend or relative. The companies who sell these credentials which they create are usually only really interested in collecting the fee from the individual, which is usually several hundred dollars.

The cruise lines and other travel suppliers make their products available to travel agents at a discount so their sales force can see their products first-hand. When these bogus "travel agents" travel, not only does it beat the supplier out of their full revenue, but it also takes up space legitimate travel agents could be using properly. For years, the industry has attempted to deal with this, but has been unsuccessful for several reasons. Today, Royal Caribbean has taken matters into their own hands.

One of the problems faced by the industry is that a few of the individuals who bought into the program would actually intend to be part-time travel agents. In most cases, it's impossible to determine who those people are, because all the travel is booked under the main agency's name, and the suppliers have no information about which individual "agents" have actually made bookings.

Royal Caribbean has cut to the chase. They've begun terminating their business relationships with the travel-related companies they unilaterally have determined are "card mills" (i.e. providing ID cards to individuals primarily for the purpose of discounted travel). With them will go all their "agents." Royal Caribbean says this will affect well over a hundred thousand people they believe have bought into these schemes.

The company says that anyone caught up in the net who has been legitimately selling travel on the Royal Caribbean brands is welcome to apply directly to Royal Caribbean for accreditation as an independent agent. (Unlike these "travel agencies," Royal Caribbean doesn't charge.)

In addition to protecting their bottom line, Royal Caribbean sees the action as protecting the consumer and their legitimate travel agents. Few of the "agents" of these companies have had any training or real product knowledge, and for those who are selling Royal Caribbean, the company doesn't want their brands' products misrepresented to the consumer. They also said these people are not providing the full set of services they expect a travel agent to provide consumers thus shortchanging the consumer of what they would get from one of their legitimate travel agents.

Royal Caribbean said the process has just begun, and it will be an ongoing program to identify the "card mills" and sever the relationships.

This article appeared in Cruise News Daily's October 9, 2007 edition.