The owner of York-based travel agency Quartz Travel has started a Facebook campaign aimed at stopping cruise lines “stealing agents’ databases”.
Paul Smith’s page, which is approaching 200 members, does not specify the allegation it is making, promising “revelations” in the near future.
However, posts by Smith suggest the gripe is about the practice of cruise lines taking travel agent customers’ details and then using them for direct marketing.
The complaint is not a new one. Travel agents have always guarded their clients’ personal information jealously for fear that operators will try to take them direct.
The passing on of information to operators like airlines is a legal requirement for security reasons, although there is an argument that they should not then use that for marketing purposes.
Understandably travel agents are concerned about the move to direct booking, particularly in a sector like cruise that currently sees high levels of third-party sales.
Direct bookings with operators are usually relatively small in number even in the US, the world’s largest cruise market, although some of the larger lines have seen direct sales rise past 10% of their overall business in recent years.
However, one cruise line boss told Travolution that the campaign does not take into account the huge expense cruise operators go specifically to drive sales to agents.
“The money we spend with travel agents to try to get customers to book again is incredible,” he said. “We work closely with travel agents to make people book again with them and with us.”
He also said direct marketing activity by operators often benefited agents because customers will choose who to book with and the travel agency channel is promoted as an option.
Nicole Eaves, of Garstang Travel, a member of the group, although she told us she was signed up by someone else and didn’t know anything about the campaign, said it was impossible to stop lines accessing customer data.
But she said the issue was how they use that information. “It’s something we will never stop. They are going to market direct but hopefully they also try to revert everybody back to their agent.
“If you are a good agent you have nothing to fear from this because clients want that personal touch, but the problem is if they go out with a heavy price led offer that’s only available direct.
“At the end of the day they just want to fill their ships and it’s irrelevant to them how they do that. There are a lot of ships out there so the situation is not going to get any better on that score.”
Complete Cruise Solution, the trade arm for P&O Cruises, recently annoyed many travel agents by slashing commission to 5% to try to stop some of the rampant discounting by agents in the UK.
Although the operator also made moves to ensure it was not offering cruises more cheaply on its own website some agents fear it could ultimately drive direct sales up because under the previous regime agents were able to discount so heavily they were cheaper than the lines.