Marriott Creates Agent Guidelines

*SunTrips Commissions Delayed
*Seabourne Ship Attacked
*And more

Marriott International announced last week at ASTA’s World Congress in Montreal that it had created guidelines for all agents that will be used to root out fraudulent travel agent “card mills.”

The move had been in discussion for several years, according to Fred Miller, vice president of global sales for the hotel company, but the announcement of the guidelines came in response to a call to action by ASTA president Kathy Sudeikis.

“As Kathy said, it is up to suppliers to do something about these abusers,” said Miller. “They are a detriment to agents, to suppliers and to consumers. And we decided it was time for Marriott to be the first to step up to the plate.”

Miller said the company will have an internal committee comprised solely of Marriott personnel that will review the guidelines to determine how exactly they will be applied in each individual case. All agents, however, will be held to these guidelines in order to receive Marriott’s Famtastic preferred agent rates.

“It’s right in line with what the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (NACTA) and ASTA have wanted,” said NACTA president Joanie Ogg.

Miller said that more information on the application of the guidelines will be announced as the company studies the issue further in the months ahead.

“Card Mill” Indicators

The existence of some or all of the following factors are indicators of a “card mill”:

The company’s primary business appears to be selling travel agent training, annual memberships, or travel agent ID cards, generally by promoting the purchaser’s personal travel benefits rather than the profitability of selling travel.

The company’s cards represent that the holder is a travel agent and is actively engaged on an agency’s behalf in selling to the general public, even though many or all of the holders generate little or not actual travel business.

The company promises to supply for a fee training materials and travel agent support services that will adequately equip the purchaser to function as a travel agent.

The company’s promotional literature contains an excessive amount of references to cards and/or cardholders’ status as being “official, certified, accredited, endorsed, and/or approved,” implying that persons who purchase cards automatically enjoy good standing with industry accrediting bodies or with suppliers generally.

The company’s cards and/or promotional literature fail to disclose that many suppliers such as airlines and large hotel chains do not recognize the card and/or membership.

The company’s Marriott International sales are disproportionately at Famtastic rates or other travel industry discounts.

The company offers the purchaser an opportunity to recruit other agents and earn fees for each recruit as well as each time the recruit books travel.

SunTrips Commissions Delayed

According to several travel agents, tour operator SunTrips has continued to delay payments on agent commissions, and now clients are receiving the brunt of the instability at SunTrips.

“I've heard of clients being walked from hotels because of nonpayment from SunTrips said Chris Russo, president of Rocky Mountain ASTA. “One agency in particular has a group next week that has been moved three times because the hotels will not accept SunTrips documents.”

The tour operator also canceled operations to Cancun until February, according to an agent.

“SunTrips is refunding all Cancun vacation packages in full,” according to an e-mail recent sent to TravelAge West from an agent. “Unfortunately, they are not processing these refunds normally.”

Clients are being told they will have to wait at least three weeks to get a credit card refund and four to six weeks for check payments, according to an agent.

When contacted last month about delayed agent commissions, the company’s general manager said in a statement that the delay was temporary and commission would be processed the week ending Oct. 21.

As of this month, several travel agents have told TravelAge West that they were still waiting on their commissions.

The company’s president recently released a brief statement saying that commissions will be paid once Suntrips changes owners.

“SunTrips is taking the necessary steps to pay travel agent commissions. Once the sale between OneTravel Holdings and Crystal Finance is completed SunTrips will be evaluating commissions and bringing them up-to-date. The sale is expected to be final at the end of November 2005.”

The delayed payments have caused some agents to lose faith in the company.

“This does not feel good,” said Barbara Ann Roby of Marketplace Travel. “We’re not going to believe anything they say now.”

Attacked at Sea

Pirates in two small boats carrying machine guns and other weapons attempted to attack Seabourn Cruise Lines’ “Spirit” off the coast of Somalia, according to reports. The crew issued an emergency response system, and the ship eventually out ran the pirates’ boats. While the pirates weren’t able to board the Spirit, passengers reported shots being fired at the luxury cruiseline’s ship. About 300 people were onboard; one person suffered minor injuries, according to reports.

Packaged Magic

The Walt Disney Travel Company is making the Magic Your Way packages a little more magical by adding special features, including a Disney’s PhotoPass, Planet Hollywood dining and merchandise, as well as preferred fireworks viewing.

When agents book a Magic Your Way package, clients receive a free Disney’s PhotoPass print, redeemable only online. Clients also receive one meal voucher and one souvenir voucher per reservation for Planet Hollywood, located in Downtown Disney.

A voucher for access to preferred viewing locations to watch “Wishes Nighttime Spectacular” at the Magic Kingdom Park and “Illuminations: Reflections of Earth” at Epcot is also available when booking the package.

The six-night, seven-day Magic Your Way starts at $433 per adult, double occupancy, during value season and from $533 during peak season.

In addition, the package includes accommodations at a Disney Value Resort, Magic Your Way base ticket for seven days, Park Hopper option and a Water Park Fun & More option.

Complex planned for Cable Beach

Two powerhouses in the gaming and hospitality fields have partnered to create what is billed as the largest single-phase development in the Caribbean, located in the Cable Beach area of Nassau, Bahamas. Harrah’s Entertainment and Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide will offer a 1,000-acre, mixed-use resort project, whose first phase represents an investment of $1.6 billion and a room count of 3,550 units.

Construction will begin in 2007 with the first phase scheduled to open in 2010.

Plans call for four hotels, including the only collection of four Starwood brands at a single resort, and the debut of the first Caesars Hotel project since Caesars was acquired by Harrah’s last June.

The hotels comprise a 300-room W, including 100 condo units; a 300-room St. Regis, also with 100 condos; a 700-room Westin; and a 700-room Sheraton.

Club Med Campaigns

Over the last seven years, Club Med has invested over $1 billion in product and service upgrades, and is now launching a nationwide campaign to promote its upscale facilities.

The company’s new Share the World campaign kicked off last month in New York City with “share the groove.” The company distributed complimentary CDs from Putamayo, featuring world music symbolic of the 100 Club Med resorts around the world. Each month, a new experience unique to Club Med will fill the streets nationwide to entice travelers with music, beaches and snow-covered mountains.

Air New Zealand’s New Fleet

In an effort to extend its long-haul operations, Air New Zealand has ordered eight Boeing 777-200ER aircrafts that will eventually replace many of its 767-300s.

The new interior consists of a three-class layout of Business Premier, Pacific Premium Economy and Pacific Economy, featuring the longest lie-flat seat available in business class.

In total, four of the new 313-seat 770-200 ER aircrafts will be purchased by Air New Zealand, and four will be leased from International Lease Finance Corporation (IFC). The purchase cost of the four aircrafts and maintenance of the fleet of eight is more than $700 million.

By early 2007, the company will offer 6,826 available seats across 21 aircrafts, representing a nearly 30 percent increase in long-haul seats.

Fantasy Could Cease Operations

Fantasy Holidays, a 25-year-old packager of vacations to Italy and Hawaii, stopped answering its phones, creating concern in the travel agent community.

Although the company’s Web site continued to appear operational, attempts to log into its booking engine failed. In addition, Fantasy Holidays isn’t returning calls or e-mails, according to reports.

Early this month, Travel Guard International added Fantasy Holidays to its list of companies it will not cover in case of default.