Opodo is pressing ahead with plans to break into the cruise market even if some of the UK’s leading operators stop selling through Amadeus Cruise.
Although Europe’s second-largest online travel agent said it preferred to work through the GDS, it said speculation that Complete Cruise Solution would come off the system would not deter it.
CCS, the trade arm of P&O Cruises, Cunard and Princess Cruises, and Amadeus say talks are ongoing, but the operator is widely expected to come off the system.
Opodo warned this might force it to favour rival lines because it did not want to have to use multiple systems to access product.
Garry Brown, Opodo’s cruise commercial director, said: “It’s all well and good lines having their own booking engines, but if I have got a customer wanting to do a search for the Caribbean, I don’t want my consultants spending double or triple the amount of time searching everyone’s websites,” he said.
Carnival UK sales director Giles Hawke said the operator wanted to move to electronic distribution with zero cost. Amadeus charges suppliers on a per transaction basis.
Hawke said since the Polar booking engine was introduced to Completecruisesolution.com last November, the percentage of agents’ online sales had risen from 50% to 65%.
“We believe our booking engine offers by far the best functionality and we are happy to open up our software so agents can access our stock directly.”
Hawke added the operator was happy to open up its API to retailers to connect directly or through a third party and that Opodo as a business based on technology should be able to make use of that.
Brown said Opodo’s cruise technology was ready but the launch depended on recruiting four experienced consultants for its Leicester call centre.
However he said, despite offering salaries above the market rate, it had struggled to find appropriate candidates. Hawke welcomed Opodo’s entrance into the cruise sector saying it signalled its arrival as a true mainstream holiday option.
“It has been a surprising omission when you look at big travel agent websites that cruise was not there.
“This probably moves cruise more into the mainstream than maybe it has been perceived to date, but of course Thomas Cook and Thomson have had cruise on their websites for many years.”
Brown said CCS’s recent move to a flat rate 5% commission to try to tackle the high levels of discounting in the UK might also see it favour rival lines but he said he could “work with it”.
“It does send a message to the industry that they are not going to mess around with discounts anymore and they will work with you.”
Hawke added: “Now we have reached a stage from our perspective where the price of our cruises is the actual price in the market place it’s probably a good time for the large online players to enter the market because the price confusion has largely disappeared.”
Other online retailers are also said to be eyeing cruise including sunshine.co.uk that is currently building its cruise website.