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Carnival to Agents: ‘We Need to Apologize & Listen More
Carnival to Agents: ‘We Need to Apologize & Listen More

Carnival to Agents: ‘We Need to Apologize & Listen More’



Carnival Cruise Lines has “some apologizing to do.”

That was the frank admission of Carnival sales executive Lynn Torrent in a conversation with Travel Market Report about its travel agent relations and a new trade outreach program announced this week.

Agents are being invited to speak their minds and enter into a dialogue with Carnival under an initiative dubbed Carnival Conversations. (See sidebar.) If recent history is any guide, that conversation is likely to produce some heated exchanges with agents who feel betrayed by the cruise line.

Carnival Conversations isn’t a change of course for Carnival, said Torrent, executive vice president of sales and guest services. “The change is we’re committed to demonstrating – through actions and messaging and two-way dialogue and transparency – that Carnival always has and always will rely on and need the trade.”
 
We asked Torrent to discuss Carnival’s new trade program as well as the issues that have so angered agents in recent years.

Lynn Torrent
torrent

How did you decide to launch Carnival Conversations?
Torrent: For a few months we’ve been out talking to agents. We’ve heard loud and clear a couple of key messages. One in particular that’s troubling was that many travel agents believe that Carnival doesn’t really value them, and they were upset by changes we’ve made over the last several years and most recently the changes we made in 2013 [to Carnival’s commission structure].

It’s hard to hear that kind of feedback when we’ve got a team that is committed to working with travel agents and growing their business. So we agreed that we need to listen more and frankly we have some apologizing to do. Because despite our best efforts our intentions are not clear to travel agents.

Is this a repair mission?
Torrent: It’s repair in that clearly we need to apologize and we need to listen more. But it’s not a repair as in a one-time thing – it’s ongoing. We want to create a very transparent dialogue, so we’ll be listening to travel agents and responding to their concerns and suggestions.

To be honest and to be clear, like any other business, we can’t do 100 percent of what our customers and business partners want us to do. But we can listen and contemplate and we can explain our rationale, and that’s what we want to accomplish.

What do you feel you need to apologize for?
Torrent: The biggest thing we heard when we made changes in 2012 for 2013 [to commission terms] was that we didn’t give travel agents as much advance notice as we should have. We announced that in the fourth quarter of 2012. In listening, their preference would have been that we announce that much earlier  on, maybe halfway through the year, so that agents could have the opportunity to sell more Carnival and perhaps influence their commission tier. That’s a really fair point, and we have apologized for that.

Another agent complaint is a lack of coop marketing dollars.
Torrent: We heard from many travel agents that they don’t believe we’re committed to marketing with the trade, to cooperative marketing, and that some of the decisions we made to reinvest those marketing funds didn’t go over very well. So we’re working with each individual account. We were with an account just the other day whose commercial terms were changed, and he expressed why he was upset and why he thought we were missing opportunities. So we’re looking at that.

To be clear, we are continuing to invest in cooperative marketing – that never changed. We did reallocate at the account level.

We hear that Carnival’s personal vacation planners ‘trash’ travel agents and actively dissuade customers from booking with them.
Torrent: When I started at Carnival more than five years ago, this was a really big hot button for agents. We took a lot of steps internally and we parted ways with a lot of employees who were not following the rules.

When you have a call center there’s always going to be someone who doesn’t follow the rules. But we take it seriously and we part company with those individuals, and we tell the travel agency involved. We also share it with the rest of the call center. I think our employees understand that we won’t tolerate that kind of behavior.

That’s at odds with what we hear from agents.
Torrent: It does happen, but the number is so small compared to where it was. But if you’re one of those agents that it has impacted, I can see where it would feel like this is a chronic issue.

Why is there such a high level of distrust among agents for Carnival? It predates the commission changes.
Torrent: When I started five or six years ago, probably the biggest complaints my first day on the job, were about some of these hot buttons and the PVPs.

I think what has made it larger is over the last several years we’ve worked really hard to be more efficient internally at Carnival, as well as to try make our relations with agents more efficient. When you have a product that is providing great vacations at great values, efficiency is really important. We think in the end it’s good for Carnival and good for travel agent distribution.

But as we listen to travel agents, maybe we pushed too fast, too hard. So we started in this place, and it’s gotten progressively a little noisier.

What do you mean by efficiencies?
Torrent: For example, we invested millions of dollars to create tools so agents could book simple-type bookings electronically versus calling in every reservation, or certain group activities. That was purely a travel agent investment, but we had to push the agency community pretty hard to use the tools.

What about the perception that at Carnival Corp. agents are seen as an expense, that there’s a bottom line focus that negatively impacts the bigger picture?
Torrent: We sat down with Micky Arison [chair of Carnival Corp.] about a month ago as part of building Carnival Conversations and getting ready for some cool advertising. We wanted to capture his thoughts on video so we could share them with the agent community. You’ll hear how much he does value travel agents and how he appreciates how much their role has changed and how much harder their jobs have gotten.

So to your point on Carnival Corp., I absolutely know they believe in and support the distribution.

One agent told me that once things get better for Carnival, agents will ‘get kicked to the curb again.’ Your response?
Torrent: It’s a fair question. The answer is we’ve always needed them. We also realize that while some agents will hear and believe us, not all agents will. Over time, as agents see that we are making a commitment, and this isn’t ‘we’re here today, gone tomorrow,’ I think we will win more back.


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Comments

Carolyn    June 28, 2013    12:02 AM
Carnival should be more empathic with their refund/cancelation policy. I understand travel insurance is available, but what is the ratio of customers that purchase it and actually need to use it.  I had an elderly customer who needed emergency surgery and was advised two weeks before their cruise and he and his spouse lost about $700.00. I feel every situation should be reviewed on a separate basis and not just a blanket rule. Not only was it bad for them but I lost business as well with their friends. You should have written it off as a lost on your taxes you are a Major Player in the travel industry. Just think of the business you could have gotten instead of what we both lost!!!!  


Brian    June 27, 2013    10:15 PM
I entered the Travel Agent world about 5 years ago. I was open minded with Carnival and they were my #1 supplier of cruises and all my group cruises. However, in that short amount of time, I have experienced so many of the complaints that you hear from travel agents, from being treated rudely (myself) on cruises to the stealing of clients. The commissions have been cut and with their cheap prices and high NCF's they have just become not worth the hassle. It seems they are just shuffling the players on the top running the company. I wasn't sure if I was reading an interview with a Carnival official or a politician. These political type answers and dancing around the issues are not going to correct the problems. They need real solutions. “Maybe we pushed too hard too fast” Really - when is it a good time to cut commissions and require more sales?  “Because despite our best efforts our intentions are not clear to travel agents– What intentions are you trying to relay with cutting commissions and pushing the agents out? I think their intentions were very clear.  I do give them props for implementing a better online booking technology for agents. The agent rewards program is a joke and not worth the time you have to spend with it. But they were behind times on this technology. Now if they could just create maybe 20 to 30 more rate categories (saracasm). Another example - "we talked to prominent group leaders, and they all wanted these changes in group perks". This change was taking away of perks, requiring more points to obtain the new lower perks, etc. REALLY? Group leaders wanted this?


Kelly    June 27, 2013    6:06 PM
I believe that in an effort to be "Efficient" and "Affordable" Carnivale Cruise Line has become cheap. I feel this interview was a lot of PR waffle. One of the biggest concerns with travel agents is the increase of the "non-commissionable" portion of the cruise fare.  The commissionable portion gets smaller and smaller each year, making it harder to meet Carnival Cruise Line's increasing quotas for the commission levels.  The time it takes from promotion to sale to cruise completion is not worth the 60.00 earned. With the issues Carnival Cruise Line is having these days, the service time increases while our profits continue to decrease. Carnival Cruise Line is going to have to make SIGNIFICANT changes before I put forth the time and effort to promote them again. Kelly CarnivalE Travel


Laurence    June 27, 2013    4:21 PM
Passenger relations have been horrid.  Carnival needs to establish some form of alternate dispute resolution for passenger and travel agent use.  It is such bad business practice to loose client(s) and agencies because they refuse to negotiate or compromise.


John    June 27, 2013    3:26 PM
Someone should be also training Carnival employees on the ships, my experince was simply with the pursers desk blaming the "TRAVEL AGENT" for not providing an air schedule for my group when we received our dis-embarkation tags being one of the last to leave the ship. When I said I was the group leader and they indeed had the info that employee left the desk and another began to help me. When I asked 'why' they said that, no answer was provided -only WELL do you want the new dis-emabarkation number of not. Like take them or leave them! That was the last group booking placed on Carnival and we only sell them when a client chooses to sail with them. I have been in the travel industry since 1976. 


We have and will continue to value and appreciate agents. We rely on agents. We need agents. But that’s clearly not the perception.

Lynn Torrent, Carnival Cruise Lines

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