Operators Take Regal China Snag in Stride

China wholesalers work with cruise ships’ owner to confirm client reservations for 2003

By: David Peterkofsky

Wholesalers that sell Regal China Cruises’ Yangtze River sailings don’t appear overly concerned about their passengers’ 2003 Yangtze bookings, even though Regal suddenly announced they would no longer market the cruises on behalf of the three vessels’ owners.

In an Oct. 29 letter to Regal’s wholesale partners, President David Yiu wrote that the owners of the Jeannie, Elaine and Sheena, Wuhan-based Nantong Lihui International Shipping, would assume all operational and management control of the vessels, effective Nov. 30. Yiu added that Regal had recalled its China-based management staff and guides.

Yiu’s letter provided no explanation for Lihui’s decision to end the partnership.

Because the change goes into effect at the end of the Regal sailing season, operators haven’t had to scramble much to reconfirm reservations. But the move comes at an inopportune time for wholesalers in one respect: Most have already printed their 2003 catalogs, listing itineraries that feature Regal sailings aboard the vessels.

“Although we did not hear about any difficulties before this, we had a little advance warning before the official announcement,” said Christina Liadis, tour operations manager for China Travel Service. “So we’ve been able to double-check all of our upcoming groups with the owners of the three ships.”

Lihui, Liadis added, quickly reconfirmed CTS’ upcoming group bookings.

Valerie Wade, sales executive at Euroasia Travel, said her company planned to advise its China office to contact the owners directly and confirm its reserved space on future sailings.

“This puts us in a precarious position because we had based over 50% of our Yangtze departures on Regal cruises,” she said.

At Champion Holiday East, president Steve Xu said it will be business as usual for his Yangtze-bound clients, whether or not Regal markets Lihui’s three vessels.

“The cruises will continue to sail the Yangtze, and the itineraries will remain unchanged,” said Xu, whose company uses Lihui’s ships for 30% to 40% of its Yangtze business. “If the service quality remains unchanged, we’ll still use them.”

As recently as mid-October, Regal officials thought they had negotiated a deal to continue the nine-year partnership with Lihui into 2003, only to find that Lihui contacted wholesale partners directly and urged them to reconfirm blocked space directly with Lihui without copying Regal on the correspondence.

Jeanne Dalton, Regal’s director of marketing and sales, doesn’t know what to make of Lihui’s decision, but she’s not spending too much time looking back.

“Our only priority is to help our tour operators through this transition,” Dalton said. “Their brochures are all in print, and I don’t know that there are a lot of options for them.”

The move also leaves Regal without any vessels to market. Dalton wouldn’t say whether Regal had plans to affiliate itself with other vessels now sailing on the Yangtze. But with no product to promote, Regal canceled its appearance at this week’s China International Travel Mart in Shanghai.