Travel Leaders brings big news to V-com conference in Vegas
By Johanna Jainchill
LAS VEGAS — This year marked Vaca-
tion.com’s 13th annual conference, but the
first under its new parent company, Travel
book, but you can’t rip a phone book,” he
said. “We’re a phone book. And we want to
be a really thick phone book.”
Travel agents here seem bolstered by V-
com’s new ownership.
The conference featured executives from
cruise lines, tour operators, car rental companies, and airlines, but it was the leadership from Travel Leaders that many agents
were most interested in hearing from.
Travel Leaders Group Chairman Michael
Batt made a big splash in his first appearance in front of V-com members, promising them that they would soon be able to
compete with online agencies.
“Amadeus was a good owner, but Travel
Leaders brings so much to the table,” said
Anthony Hamawy, president of Cruise
.com. “The value of a consortium comes in
the other products, in the form of cash. …
Programs like AirPro will potentially give
agents a boost.”
Cruise and tour executives here were
clearly aware of V-com’s strength and talked
up the fact that agents are their primary sales
force, in spite of the direct sales channel.
Batt told the audience
of about 1,000 V-com
members that Travel
Leaders would launch an
online booking system
for all its brands by the
end of the year.
Travel Leaders will
launch an online
booking system for
all its brands.
Andy Stuart, Norwegian Cruise Line’s executive vice president of global sales, said that with 30%
more capacity by 2014,
Norwegian needed agent
support more than ever.
The system, currently
in the planning stages,
would enable customers to book travel
through members’ websites at any time of
the day or night, Batt said.
“To have a sales force
of this size is incredibly
exciting for us,” he said of the audience.
“There is a huge number of new guests that
mutually we need to find.”
“The online businesses make a lot money
doing nothing,” he said. “We want that cus-
tomer coming to you, and for you to get paid
Norwegian CEO Kevin Sheehan expand-
ed on that.
That service will be available to all Travel
Leaders Group members, including V-com,
Nexion, Travel Leaders Corporate, Leisure
and Franchise Group and Tzell Travel.
“One of the main goals we have is to
make travel agents the No. 1 advocates for
Norwegian,” he said.
Agents here also learned about another
new program for V-com members, AirPro,
which enables agencies to earn commission
on airline tickets (see report on Page 1).
“There is a lot of noise about direct sales,”
Sheehan said. “But it’s a small piece of a big
pie. The reality is the majority of cruises are
being booked by all of you, and we recognize
we must make you our partners first.”
It is hoped these programs will lure more
agents to join V-com, which has more than
5,100 members and has recruited 200 this
year so far.
Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales
and trade support for Royal Caribbean International, said that online travel agencies
played a role in cruise sales, as well, but of a
Travel Leaders Group’s strategy was to
target 40% of North American agencies,
Batt said, because suppliers recognize the
power of size.
“If an online travel agency wants to sell a
breadth of our product, we don’t discriminate,” she said.
“You can easily rip one page of a phone
“We do see that they sell the less sophis-
ticated product. Not Europe, New Zealand
and Dubai. They sell more of the closer-
to-home, short cruise product, and work
within a shorter booking window. The tra-
ditional agent can sell all the products the
OTA does and the sophisticated product.”
Scott Nisbet, CEO of Globus, said that
there are some indications that both OTA
and direct business had reached its climax.
During panel, straight talk about rebating
On the third day of V-com’s annual
conference, a cruise-focused panel
touched on concerns about rebating.
This time, the sole travel agent on
the panel, Sandy Cleary of CruCon in
Moultonborough, N.H., also V-com’s
second top producer, spoke out on
the topic, but not against rebating.
“I can live with [rebating rules], but
do I personally agree with them? No,”
she said. “I don’t believe anybody has
the right to tell me what to do with my
Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity Cruises’ senior vice president of sales, said, “We allow
you to rebate up to 10% of the value of the cruise. We like the level playing field. We
don’t want the small travel agent to be hurt by the big travel agent.”
She further said the policies enable travel agents to earn the respect of the customer
“on your value, not on a price.”
Mike Wiersema,vice president of sales and national accounts for Viking River Cruis-
es, who was a travel agent for 27 years, said that many of the agencies that sold only
on price and not value were no longer in business.
“We’d love to see everyone keep their commissions,” he said.
The audience mostly took the side of the cruise executives, applauding the loudest in
defense of anti-rebating policies.
But Cleary was not alone in her position on rebating.
Another Vacation.com member said that when cruise lines tout level playing fields, it
is only so travel agents can’t offer better rates than the lines’ direct sales team.
“It makes the playing field level between you and a billion-dollar company,” the member said. — J.J.
The panelists, from left: Sandy Cleary of CruCon, Mike
Wiersema of Viking River Cruises, Mark Kammerer of Holland
America Line and Dondra Ritzenthaler of Celebrity Cruises.
Norwegian Cruise Line offers details on two newbuilds
By Johanna Jainchill
LAS VEGAS — The cabin design on Norwegian Cruise Line’s two new ships will be
“modern boutique hotel meets the sea,”
CEO Kevin Sheehan said at Vacation.com’s
annual conference here.
Sheehan unveiled the first details about
the new ships to about 1,000 travel agents
attending the conference.
The balcony and minisuite cabins on
Project Breakaway, the current name for
the company’s next two ships, will have “an
ambience that is warm and inviting and has
a very contemporary feel with clean, modern lines,” Sheehan added.
In reference to the often-criticized bathrooms on Norwegian’s most recent newbuild, the Norwegian Epic, Sheehan joked,
“And now for the big news: These ships will
have fully enclosed bathrooms.”
A rendering of the cabin design to be featured aboard Norwegian Cruise Line’s Project Breakaway ships.
He also promised that the sinks would be
“generous in size and have an easy-to-use
faucet,” also poking fun at the original Epic
cabin faucets that have to be replaced.
Sheehan said that the company had
learned a lot from the 10 ships it has taken
delivery of over the last 10 years.
Project Breakaway, he said, “will take the
best of the best from the existing ships.”
The 1,024 balcony suites and 238 mini-
suites are being designed by the same firm
that did the Epic’s cabins for solo travelers.