Booking shore excursions for groups can boost agents’ commission earnings, but you won’t hear about it from the cruise lines.
Several cruise lines, though not all, pay commissions or provide net pricing on group shore excursions and, in some cases, on custom individual excursions. Yet most cruise lines won’t talk about these commission and pricing policies.
When Travel Market Report asked cruise lines to detail their policies for group shore excursions, most were reticent to talk.
Keeping agents in the dark
“I bet you just a small percentage of agents know about them,” Michelle Fee, CEO and co-founder of Cruise Planners/American Express, said of opportunities to earn commission or mark up net prices for group excursions. “If they have those types of programs, they have to do a really good job of letting the agent community know that.”
Even Fee did not know about all the programs available to agents. For instance, when Travel Market Report mentioned Norwegian Cruise Line’s commissionable group shore excursion program, she was surprised.
“I knew that Royal [Caribbean International] does it on a case-by-case basis, but I had no clue that NCL did that. I should know that, and why don’t I know that?”
Answering her own question, Fee said, “Very little is talked about this.”
The executive of another agency group said cruise lines like to keep their shore excursion business strategies close to the chest, because a large amount of revenue is derived from them. The executive spoke with Travel Market Report on condition of anonymity.
Why not talk it up?
If agents knew about opportunities to earn money on group shore bookings, it could drive additional business to the lines, Fee pointed out. “They should be talking it up because it certainly might sway an agent into booking a group on them instead of somebody else.
“Talk about it, saying, ‘Bring me 20 customers for a shore excursion; we’ll pay you commission.’ I haven’t seen that information anywhere.”
The following Travel Market Report roundup outlines policies on group shore excursion of those cruise lines that offer commissions or net rates. We start with the most generous pay policies.
Costa Cruises, N.A.: Travel sellers earn commissions of 8% to 15% on shore excursion bookings for groups of 20 or more. Under a new program, the commission structure varies according to number of participants, the shore excursion selected and the season. Excursions must be pre-booked prior to sailing. Groups of more than 100 guests (50 in the Caribbean) on one excursion must be verified and confirmed for availability. Commission is paid after the cruise, based on participation.
MSC Cruises: Agents earn 10% commission on group shore excursions, and groups may select any standard shore excursion program. Specialized or private shore excursions – also paying 10% – can be requested 60 to 90 days prior to sailing.
Royal Caribbean International: Royal Caribbean pays commission on shore excursion bookings for incentive groups. Other requests for commission or net rates are handled case by case. For custom group shore excursion requests, the line “often” pays commissions, a spokesperson said.
Silversea Cruises: Silversea pays 5% to agents who arrange custom private shore programs for individuals or groups; arrangements must be made prior to sailing and through the Silver Shore Concierge. The line’s mid-voyage land tours, which are full-day or multiple-day excursions, are commissionable at 5%; they must be booked in advance through the reservations department.
Disney Cruise Line: Travel agents earn commission only when they pre-book individual or group clients onto shore excursions created and operated by Adventures by Disney. These are available on select itineraries only.
Holland American Line: Cruise sellers can book groups (typically 30 or more guests) onto custom group shore excursions at wholesale prices and mark up pricing as they see fit.
Norwegian Cruise Line: The line is “renovating” its commissionable group shore excursion program, and details are not yet available, a spokesperson said. The line does not plan to scrap the program, the spokesperson confirmed.
Celebrity Cruises: A spokesperson declined to say whether Celebrity offers a commissionable or net rate group shore excursion program. However, an agent source said the line’s group sales department told her that once a group is set up (typically a large group), agents can contact their Partner Advocate, who will check to see if the shore excursion provider has a net rate available.
See related story: “Make Money on Shore Excursions by Booking Third-Party Providers,” Travel Market Report, March 21, 2011.