Air NZ Revamps Long-Haul Pricing

*ASTA's Plan Moves Forward
*Alaska Cruise Tax
*Fee Increase Proposed in Calif.

Last month, Air New Zealand changed its long-haul pricing model on North American routes by removing certain fare restrictions and allowing those who book early to get the cheapest fares.

“We’re doing something to pricing that no other long-haul airline has been able to do to date, simplifying it,” said Gus Gilmore, vice president of Air New Zealand, The Americas. “This innovative approach allows us to streamline the entire booking process and add more flexibility for your customers.”

International fares can be inconsistent or high for people who book flights early, prompting many customers looking for last-minute deals to book closer to their departure date. Now, the earlier agents book their customers’ flights, the better the deal. The airline will also let travelers book a different cabin class each way.

Air New Zealand is also nixing weekend surcharges, minimum-stay requirements and reducing seasonal fares. In the past, travelers flying from Los Angeles to Auckland could only purchase stopovers on select fares, but now this option is available on all Los Angeles to Auckland fares. Prices for Pacific Island stopovers in Fiji, Tahiti, the Cook Islands, Tonga and Samoa are $100 per stop for southbound stopovers and $200 per stop for northbound stopovers.

Agents Get a Reality Check

A veteran of the hit reality show “The Apprentice” will join the Travelsavers 35th anniversary convention to be held Sept. 15-18.

TV’s boardroom judge and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, George Ross, will be a keynote speaker.

As many as 1,000 travel industry professionals and suppliers are expected to attend the event at the Westin Kierland Resort & Spa in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Travelsavers agents who want to register for the convention can do so on the company’s Web site.

ASTA Approves Two-Tiered Membership

The American Society of Travel Agents’ (ASTA) board of directors unanimously approved a plan to create two membership tiers for agent members in order to provide more services to agencies willing to pay top dollar.

The proposal will go to a membership vote in September. If voters give it the okay, members will be asked to ratify a new governance plan by year end, and the two plans would be fully operational in 2007.

For $2,500 a year, Premium member agencies would have access to a range of customized consulting services.

Dues for Core members (agencies or individuals) would be $250 per location a reduction from the $365 now paid by a single-location business, but higher than the $189 paid by individual “travel professionals.”

Core members’ fees would enable members to have access to many of the same benefits and services currently available to members, however the services would be more often delivered via the Internet, officials said. In addition, Core members would receive summary versions of the customized information and advice developed for Premium members.

Today, the Society counts about 7,000 voting members, but, according to officials, the new plan relies on conservative projections over the next three years of about 4,000 Core members and 1,000-plus Premium members.

Cruise Tax Gains Ground

Plans to tax cruise ships $4 to $5 per passenger appear to be gaining ground in Sitka, Alaska, raising some eyebrows in the cruise industry, The Associated Press reported.

Sitka administrator John Stein will introduce the cruise-passenger tax proposal to the city assembly who can then accept, reject or let voters decide on the proposal in October’s election, officials said. The tax is estimated to raise $1 million annually, the AP reported, and must be used to directly benefit the cruise industry in Sitka.

Meanwhile, Sitka resident Mary Magnuson is working toward a $5-per-passenger increase and plans to collect more than 650 signatures to get the initiative on the October ballot. But if the assembly accepts Stein’s proposal, Magnuson said she’ll drop her initiative.

While Juneau charges $5 a head and Ketchikan charges $6, according to reports, cruise industry professionals feel Sitka might be asking too much.

The city, which doesn’t have a docking facility, doesn’t see many cruise ships, and $4 to $5 “would be very high in relation to what their expenses are,” said John Shively, vice president of government and community relations at Holland America.

New Proposal Could Affect Agents Selling California

Travel agents, tour operators and anyone else who sells land-only vacations of $300 or more to California residents would have to register and comply with the state’s seller-of-travel law under a proposal now before the state legislature.

The proposal to expand the statute would also mean that California-based companies that sell land-only travel would have to participate and pay an assessment to the Travel Consumer Restitution Corp. (TCRC), California’s unique program that reimburses consumers hurt by bankruptcy, company failure or fraud by fund participants.

The 10-year-old law requires anyone, other than airlines and cruise lines, who sells air and sea transportation to Californians to register with the attorney general’s office, pay an annual $100 fee and comply with regulations regarding use of registration numbers in advertising, the prompt delivery of documents and maintaining a bond or a trust account.

A bill introduced by State Senator Jackie Speier would expand the law’s jurisdiction to cover those who sell land- and water-based trips of $300 per person or more. Airlines and cruise lines would remain exempt.

The proposal comes at the request of the California Coalition of Travel Organizations (CCTO), an industry lobbying group that has been the primary driver of the law. The group comprises three ASTA chapters, the U.S. Tour Operators Association and two agency networks, Westa and Signature Travel.

Antoine Georges, San Diego ASTA chapter president and president of the TCRC, is fighting the proposal.

As for the bill’s chances of passing, officials said it would be premature to comment.