Smoother Seas Forecast at Annual Conference

“This year is the launching pad of what Cruise Holidays will be into the future," said Charles J. Dunwoody, senior vice president of Cruise Holidays. "We have to become retailers instead of remaining as agents.”

By: Theresa Norton Masek

ABOARD RADIANCE OF THE SEAS, Vancouver At last year’s Cruise Holidays convention, the cruise lines and agents were shakily dealing with the post-Sept. 11 fallout, bleakly wondering about the future.

This year, cruise lines and the Cruise Holidays chain are feeling more optimistic, given the fast, but not total, recovery of the cruise segment.

“Last year, our goal was to stabilize,” said Charles J. Dunwoody, senior vice president of Cruise Holidays. “This year is the launching pad of what Cruise Holidays will be into the future. ... We have to become retailers instead of remaining as agents.”

The Cruise Holidays 170-agency chain is part of the Carlson Companies, headquartered in Minneapolis.

Roger E. Block, executive vice president of Carlson Wagonlit Travel Associate Division, noted that “yields aren’t where anybody wants them. We have to work together to create demand so yields can go up, and we’re seeing the bare beginning of that.”

Cruise line executives speaking at the opening session generally agreed with those assessments.

“The economy is, at best, uncertain. The timing of its recovery is, at best, a guess,” said Andrew Stuart, senior vice president of marketing and sales for Norwegian Cruise Line and Orient Lines. “The situation with Iraq is hanging over us like a black cloud.

“Still, the trend we see is much more positive than we ever imagined a year ago. Our booking trends are extremely positive and we’re starting to see yield and pricing recovery.”

Mike Applebaum, vice president of sales for Royal Caribbean International, noted that other segments of the travel industry those not aligned with travel agents have had much tougher times rebounding from the double whammy of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and a sluggish economy.

But he said his company is also seeing upward trends after deep discounting. For example, they offered a seven-day Caribbean cruise for $399 late last year.

“For 2003, we’re seeing very, very strong trends,” Applebaum said. “If we continue booking at the rates we are now, where yields are now, and with the increase in tonnage we have coming on, we should have our most successful year in 2003.”

In other news from the convention:

" Cruise Holidays named Celebrity Cruises its Supplier of the Year, based on service, value and delivery of product.

" Cruise Holidays is issuing a branded loyalty credit card that will give cardholders 2% in reward dollars on all purchases they make. The reward dollars can be redeemed only at Cruise Holidays stores. Travel agents will get commissions for every client they sign up for the card. There is no annual fee for the card, which is issued by MBNA America.

" Cruise Holidays is investing $250,000 to upgrade CruiseWeb, the main operating system for the chain. The old platform Windows 95 and Access 97 will be replaced with Microsoft OS and Access 2000. More than 50 other enhancements will be made to seven major areas. The rollout of CruiseWeb 5.0 is expected in November.

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