Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you. That’s the stance some – but not all – travel advisors are taking when it comes to embracing the return of Crystal Cruises.
The line left many advisors in the lurch with hundreds of thousands of dollars in unpaid commissions when it went out of business in early 2022. Some believe new owner, A&K Travel Group, needs to make right by the agency community before they’ll feel comfortable supporting it. Other advisors are full steam ahead, already compiling lists of clients ready to sail as soon as the ships are back at seas.
“There aren’t enough words to describe just how ecstatic I am,” Dana Dziegiel, owner of Gypsea Travels, LLC, an independent agency in the Avoya Travel Network, told Travel Market Report. “When the ‘end of Crystal’ announcement was made in January, I was devastated. Not just for myself and my clients, but for the amazing crew that I call ‘family.’”
And it’s not just advisors who are excited.
“I had dinner with a Crystal client last Thursday and we were both excited to hear about A&K bringing Crystal Cruises back,” said Karen Quinn-Panzer, owner of a Dream Vacations franchise.
Dziegiel said she already has a “pretty significant list started of clients that want to book when they announce the itineraries in 2023… Once you’ve been ‘Crystalized’ it’s hard to imagine being on another line.”
Unpaid Commissions Remain a Sticking Point
For some advisors, the issue of unpaid commissions remains the elephant in the room.
“Will the travel agency community support Crystal if our commissions are not paid?” asked Susan Reder of Frosch Classic Cruise and Travel, a luxury agency within the Signature Travel network. “We have an exorbitant of outstanding commissions due. Those commissions have to be paid to get any support!”
Reder said she’s less concerned about refunds for clients as most people who booked did what they needed to (usually via their credit card) to get a refund. She, herself, got a refund for a cruise she had booked on Crystal Endeavor to Antarctica this past February.
Quinn-Panzer also said her clients got their deposits back. And she was fortunate enough to not be owed any outstanding commission. But she added, “I can certainly understand some advisors feeling angry or cautious.”
On the flip side, Dziegiel said none of her clients are holding any resentment toward the Crystal brand. Not does she feel any herself. “As an agent, I feel it’s pointless to be angry or to hold resentment over the lost commissions… I am only speaking for myself when I say I don’t believe the ‘new’ Crystal should be held liable to pay the ‘old’ Crystal’s debts to the agency community. There are so many of us that have lost thousands of dollars in unpaid commissions, but are still willing and very excited to be selling Crystal again.”
A Perfect Match
One thing advisors TMR spoke with agreed on is that the pairing of Abercrombie & Kent and Crystal Cruises is a great one.
“My reaction to the news was ‘what a great brand pairing,’” Quinn-Panzer said. “Both brands are extremely high on the customer loyalty scale. Excellent decision for A&K to maintain the Crystal brand name in my view because Crystal clients are both loyal and passionate about their loyalty. It’s all about the service standard… A&K is the land equivalent of that high service. Hopefully, they can leverage both brand names to take bookings to another level … 2 + 2 = 5.”
“A&K and Manfredi Lefebvre definitely know luxury and I’m sure will be able to make something fantastic happen,” Reder agreed, but added “They just need to spell out what they are planning to do sooner than later and will they make good on outstanding commissions and refunds.”
Quinn-Panzer also said the A&K name also provides a sense of financial reassurance. “A&K lends financial responsibility to reassure the marketplace, and hopefully they can cross-sell land trips to cruisers and turn land clients into first time cruisers.”
Same Level of Service?
Despite A&K’s reputation, Reder says she has some concerns that the company won’t be able to offer the same level of service Crystal was known for, primarily because most of the line’s crew have moved on.
“I believe that most of the staff and crew have been rehired with other cruise lines,” Reder said. “A&K will need to basically start over… I believe that A&K can get new people but it’s going to take a very long time to try and get up to speed where Crystal was before the bankruptcy.”
Dziegiel isn’t as concerned. “Myself, along with so many of my clients believe they will do what they can to bring back as many of the Crystal crew as possible,” she told TMR. “We all know, it’s the outstanding crew that really makes the difference when sailing on Crystal.”