As I write this, 2008 is coming to a close, and there’s plenty of uncertainty about the year ahead. This was clear at a recent meeting of the TravelAge West Editorial Advisory Board.
The board — made up of highly experienced agents, suppliers and industry leaders — had a lively conversation about the economic situation and industry trends. A good portion of the discussion was related to concerns about the continued commitment of cruise lines toward travel agents in these tough times.
Shortly after that meeting, Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises announced the launch of the Agent Support Action Program (ASAP), which will provide higher commissions, reduced deposits and incentives as a way of lending a hand to agents during the busy sales season in January and February.
"This economic environment is unprecedented, and our travel agent partners need our unprecedented support," said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales for Royal Caribbean International.
It was gratifying to see that these cutting-edge cruise lines had anticipated many of the same concerns raised by our advisory board. Perhaps this same thought was had by ASTA president and TAW board member Chris Russo when he sent an open letter from ASTA to Richard Fain, chairman and CEO of Royal Caribbean.
"At a time when the travel industry is again faced with enormous challenges, it is heartening to note that the important role travel agents play has not gone unnoticed," Russo wrote. "With the recent announcement of Royal Caribbean Cruises’ ASAP program, you have signaled to the industry that travel agents remain an integral part of the distribution system and for this you have the appreciation of ASTA and its members … Actions such as those undertaken by RCCL not only reaffirm the commitment between agents and the cruise lines but will boost the travel and cruise industry at a time when we need it most."
Reading the letter, I couldn’t help thinking that Russo — along with the rest of our advisory board members — must have been relieved that, for the time being at least, agents and suppliers are on the same page.