Where to Draw the Line

Between recent remarks by Ryanair execs and RCCL's move against card mills, the very nature of the travel agent community is being questioned.

By: Kenneth Shapiro

The idiotic remarks of Ryanair executives earlier this month, calling travel agents the industry’s “greatest deadwood” and “costliest parasites,” while meant to chide their rival easyJet, couldn’t have come at a more interesting time for U.S. agents. Royal Caribbean is bathing in praise for taking on card mills, even as it has had to deal with the inevitable blowback from that decision. Joystar and YTB International, two of the three companies accused of being card mills and dropped by RCCL, have mounted their own appeals in the trade press and via online blogs. The question at the heart of the debate: Exactly who are the parasites and driftwood of our industry?

Joystar, in particular, has been very vocal in defending its honor. Just last week a FedEx package with literally hundreds of letters in support of the company was delivered to our offices.

“Even our closest competitors, many of which are very vocal about us at times, have stated we do not fit into this category. To call us anything other than a reputable and loyal partner is an injustice,” said a letter that came with the package.

YTB has also mounted its case, and it has found a sympathetic witness for the defense in Carnival Cruise Line. Vikki Freed, Carnival’s senior vice president of sales and guest services, is taking some heat from agents for writing in support of YTB in her blog. She stated that YTB was responsible for “millions of dollars of cruise revenue” for Carnival and that at a recent YTB conference the agents’ “desire to learn” was evident.

Meanwhile, lost in all this is a comment Lisa Bauer, senior vice president of North American sales for RCCL, made in an interview. Bauer, who was one of the main architects of the move against these alleged card mills, said the company is drafting a “guidance paper” that will attempt to better define a card mill, a definition that Bauer expects to be much broader than what some people might “intuitively think.”

One can only hope that by attempting to define problem agencies, the paper will provide needed insight on standards for the agency community as a whole. Such an industry-wide definition will go a long way toward keeping the trust of suppliers and consumers alike. K.S.