'Our research shows it has been a natural progression for our travel consultants to opt for the higher yielding sales of luxury and small ship cruises, tours and FIT packages replacing the lower yielding cruise sales,' NACTA president Ann Van Leeuwen told independent travel consultant members at a conference of NACTA Chapter Directors at the Sandals Grande Riviera in Jamaica.
'NACTA itself is broadening our product portfolio beyond the contemporary cruise lines whose pricing practices return lower profits for our members,' she said. In particular, the association is developing more robust partnerships with luxury lines, all-inclusive resorts and FIT package providers that are tailoring their offerings to the desires of NACTA members' clients.
Van Leeuwen pointed to growing partnerships with suppliers like Crystal Cruises, AMA Waterways, Paul Gauguin and Alaskan Dream Cruises, as well as new entrants to the US market like Scenic Tours and CroisiEurope, and said these companies continue to invest in the independent travel consultant channel. NACTA’s exclusive and newest partnership with ITeXplorer will allow members to quickly build tailor-made multi-destination FIT packages.
'We are continuing to look for new partnerships that will increase client satisfaction, travel consultant productivity, sales and commissions,' Van Leeuwen said.
The NACTA chief said member agents are telling her they will sell what’s best for their clients and for their businesses' bottom lines: 'Cruise lines and other suppliers who choose to reduce their commission expenses risk losing travel consultant loyalty. Cruise lines have choices and so do we. We will continue to build our relationships with suppliers who invest in our members and that is becoming increasingly so with the high-end vacation sector.’
More agents are specializing, too, so they can customize cruises and other travel for clients, she added.
NACTA cited the American Society of Travel Agents' 2013 survey of NACTA membership which showed a 16% shift in their business away from cruise sales since 2010, when 60% of their overall business was cruise-based, to 49%.
Van Leeuwen pointed to a recent Travel Market Report article that identified cruise sales as more and more time-intensive for agents, which translates to lower profits. Low fares and higher NCFs also cut into compensation. Agents say they are finding it impossible to make enough money on inexpensive cruises, according to Van Leeuwen, citing examples from the article that show what she called 'shockingly low' commissions.
This said, NACTA continues to support all types of cruise lines. For example, long-time partners Celebrity Cruises and Holland America Line will be front and center at this year’s NACTA annual conference at the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass in Phoenix, Oct. 30-Nov. 3. In addition NACTA members will participate in the global convention of parent association ASTA, to be held for the first time at sea aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Norwegian Breakaway.
Van Leeuwen said the Sept. 14-21 convention will give agents a look at one of the newest ships from a cruise line that 'values the sales our members generate for them.'
She added: 'It is in the best interest of all cruise lines to compensate travel consultant professionals fairly to ensure a sustainable and healthy distribution system that the cruise lines can rely on to fill their ships.'