How cruise agents live the good life with perks and commission

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Travel agents selling cruise are wooed with a variety of perks and lurks as well as commissions ranging around 10 per cent, a survey by ASEAN Cruise News reveals.
After speaking to cruise lines, agents and experts, our survey shows there are many ways to make a lucrative living selling cruises throughout Asia and beyond.
As well as earning free cruises and attending well-catered training sessions, most travel agents are paid a standard 10 per cent.
Ted Blamey of Chart Management Consultants, who created a major white paper on the industry and is currently updating it:  “Essentially, cruise lines pay a standard 10 per cent commission to travel agents to encourage them to sell cruises. It is a published rate,’’ he said. “10 per cent is a standard commission based on any sale of the full cruise package price.
“Some cruises do not include flights so the agent is able to earn more commission if he arranges for the flights and hotels, pre-and-post cruise. And if he sells travel insurance, he can also earn a bit more.’’
Selling cruise holidays is a “good way of making money’’ for travel agents because increasingly, many cruise lines are offering all-inclusive packages.
Travel agents are key in the distribution network to sell cruise holidays. Cruise lines rely on them and wholesalers to sell their products.
In Asia’s relatively young cruise market, it is not easy for a potential customer to  pick and buy a cruise holiday online.
“Cruise is quite a complex product. Unless you are an experienced cruiser, it is not easy to book a cruise online,‘’ Mr Blamey said.
That’s why lines like to invite travel agents on board ships to experience the cruise themselves. This is the most effective way for them to sell cruises. Unless the agents know what they are talking about, they are not equipped to sell a cruise, he said.
“Agents are a critical link between the cruise line and the consumer,’’ Mr Blamey said.
Samuel Manalo Jr, regional sales manages for Southeast Asia at Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd, told us that besides paying agents a commission, RCL also rewards top performers with incentives including free cruises.
The company has an international e-learning program, Cruising for Excellence for agents worldwide which covers its three brands, RCL, Celebrity and Azamara Club. The course is available in several languages including Japanese, Korean and Chinese.
Top scorers can become “Captains” and “Admirals”.  Trained agents are given priority for promotional offers.
Costa Cruises work very closely with travel agents, as they are the line’s “ambassadors” in building and selling the brand’s cruise packages.
The line organises an annual showpiece cruise, The Champions of the Sea, dedicated to Costa’s best travel partners. As part of its incentive scheme, the line can appoint travel partners and agents as Godmother and Maids of Honour when a new ship is launched.
Michael Goh, Star Cruises senior vice president, sales, said that the line provides continuous training every three to six months to reinforce agents’ knowledge of its products, reservation systems, itineraries and market trends. They are also invited on Star Cruises’ familiarisation cruises and fly-cruise trips.
For its Norwegian Cruise Line and Resorts World Manila brands, the line conducts in-depth training sessions for agents which are conducted by NCL and RWM experts.
“Know Your Customer is of great importance. By understanding the holidaymakers and MICE guests’ behaviours and travel preferences, we can tailor-make our cruise packages to meet their needs,”  Mr Goh said.
Princess Cruises has its own Princess Academy, an online university for travel agents to learn how to sell cruise to customers who are not familiar with cruising. The training equips travel agents with the skills on how to match itinerary/ship to the different consumer profiles and requirements.
There are different levels of completion – First Officer, Staff Captain, Captain and Commodore. Those who complete the highest level – Commodore  – are incentivized to pursue a fully-paid Graduation Cruise Course.
A total of 87 travel agents in Southeast Asia have completed the First Officer level and above, said a Princess Cruises spokesperson in Singapore.
In Australasia, the payment of travel agents’ commissions was the third largest expense for cruise companies on international and local cruises, according to a recent study by Cruise Lines International Association Australasia (CLIA).
Agent commissions amounted to $121.3million in 2013.
Out of a total of $963 million spent by cruise companies that year, 12.6 per cent  went on agent commissions. The biggest cost was fuel which took up 28.7 per cent at $276 million while food and beverages racked up 14.8 per cent to $143 million.
Mr Blamey said that while agents may get bigger commissions from selling luxury cruises as they are more expensive, the number of passengers on five-star vessels such as Crystal Cruises, Regent Seven Seas and Silversea are fewer compared to the bigger, mid-market ships.
Some agents may prefer bigger volumes so they concentrate on selling more cruises at cheaper package prices.
Quite often, Mr Blamey said, cruise lines offer cash incentives to major retailers which have a wider network of travel agencies. This would include an additional commission if they hit certain sales targets.