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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
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
“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
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.