The Leading Cruise Agents of the UK, which represents 70 cruise specialists, is highly critical of the move by Complete Cruise Solution, the trade sales arm of P&O Cruises, Cunard Line and Princess Cruises and its past discounting policies.
Co-chairman Ian Hopley (Travelux) said: “This is a precipitate move by CCS and although we have not yet seen the details, it seems one that penalises the many thoroughly professional cruise agents, for the shortcomings of the few who have conducted their businesses less than sensibly.
“Of course we understand the scale of risk and the challenges facing CCS and other large cruise companies during this difficult economic time, and we stand ready to review and discuss solutions which mitigate those risks, but which also acknowledge and respect those many agents who operate sensibly in terms of discounting, and with integrity in terms of financials.”
He added: “We would urge CCS to accept and acknowledge that we are where we are today because historically their commercial decisions have acquiesced in, if not actively encouraged, heavy discounting.
“In response, our members are now having to apply the financial scenario of a commission level below what we believe is a realistic and sustainable level.
“Furthermore, it now appears that, together with so much direct contact already existing between principal and our clients - be it online activity, self-ticket printing, or direct marketing material and communications - we are to have another step in the agent-to-client relationship removed, by making payments a direct process.”
Hopley added: “The LCA has long accepted the right and reality of cruise operators working with a number of distribution channels, but there is absolutely no doubt that the professional cruise agent is an intermediary valued by a steady and consistent group of consumers, and always will be.
“We would expect CCS to respect our members as a valid and valuable distribution channel and they should not be undermined or penalised by decisions arrived at by self-determined practices totally beyond their control.
“The fact that they are proposing a new business model for travel agents suggests strongly that CCS does actually acknowledge the popularity of travel agents with consumers, and accept that it needs to work with us as a path to market.
“The widest spread of trusted business partners for CCS will surely lessen their dependence on a small number of high-risk, volume-dependent agents; offer their natural customers the widest range of booking channels, and professional cruise agents the opportunity to continue to support this excellent product range.
“We urge CCS management to get together with us, to review and discuss these proposed changes in an open, pragmatic and mutually respectful atmosphere. That’s the sensible way forward for all of us.”