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Australian travellers with Future Cruise Credits are being enticed to rebook their holidays with a $365 bonus offer from a new online travel agency based in the Gold Coast.

Tens of thousands of passengers whose cruises were cancelled by the pandemic chose to take Future Cruise Credits which entitles them to book forward when cruising resumes. It meant the lines kept their deposits or payments – and meant a large army of cruisers were ready to book.

Most were on the books of their cruise line or travel agent.

Now Myfuturecruisecredit.com.au has launched a new online brand – which has caused considerable friction among traditional brick-and-mortar travel agents, who claim the new company is trying to poach their clients.

Myfuturecruisecredit.com.au is owned by Our Vacation Centre in Australia, which has been operating on the Gold Coast for more than 15 years. OVC is a subsidiary of International Cruise and Excursion Inc, a private cruise and vacation club with over 650,000 members.

Its headquarters is in Arizona in the US, and it claims to have 14 global offices across the US, UK, Asia, New Zealand and Australia.

While it is a member of Cruise Lines International Association, it is not a “partner as such” according to a CLIA spokesperson.

“Politely, it’s called poaching, but there is nothing in the conditions to say it’s illegal,” said Adam Vance, general manager, sales and marketing of Cruiseco.

“Some cruise lines, when made aware of this this, are issuing the FCC to the guest and the original agent – to support the agency community. We have benefitted in part with new FCC business to our members, especially when larger Big Box agency groups have closed a significant number of stores and their customers are looking for a reputable travel agency and a person to look after them,” Mr Vance said.

MyFCC’s international marketing manager Jason Purton denies the claim.“We are not poaching clients from other travel agencies. We are not stealing anyone’s customers. If a cruise passenger is happy with their travel agent then there is no need for them to come to us.’’

“We operate exactly like any travel agency. Since the pandemic, we have seen an increasing number of cruise passengers turning to us for help to book a future cruise using their Future Cruise Credit. The FCC belongs to the passenger, we deal with the cruise line to help passengers get what they want.

“Many home agents may not have the skills to deal with rebooking of cruises using FCC while others have closed operations because of the pandemic. Hence passengers have turned to us. All our agents have been trained and have the expertise to deal with the complex issue,” Mr Purton added.

Passengers who sign up with the website, are entitled to an exclusive Discover 365 membership loyalty award worth $365 which they can use to redeem hotel stays, car hire or excursions.

He said that while MyFCC has seen an increase of people using their services, many are still reluctant to commit to booking a cruise because of the uncertainty caused by the pandemic.

Mr Purton confirmed that MyFCC.com.au is a partner of major cruise lines including P&O Cruises, Royal Caribbean International, Carnival, Norwegian Cruise Line, Oceania, Regent Seven Seas Cruises and Princess Cruises.

P&O Cruises also confirmed that myfuturecruisecredit.com.au is a subsidiary of Our Vacation Centre which is one of Carnival Australia’s many travel agent partners.

Norwegian Cruise Line said that FCCs are best handled by an accredited travel agent.

“Future Cruise Credits have become a major currency in today’s travel industry and present the lowest of hanging fruit for travel agents to convert these into real bookings. With the majority of NCLH programs being fly/cruise, our sailings are usually part of a more complex itinerary that is best handled by a professional and accredited travel agent,” said a spokesperson for NCL Holdings.

Peter McCormack, Royal Caribbean International’s director of sales, Australia/NZ said: “Our travel partners continue to show tenacity and ingenuity in these challenging times. FutureCruiseCredit.com is an example of a travel partner seeking to best serve cruise customers by offering their industry expertise to assist with redemption of Future Cruise Credits.”

The managing director of Ramsgate Travel Service, Justine Sealey said: “It is disgusting for a company to go in direct competition with travel agents who have managed to secure credits for clients – particularly during this global pandemic that has agents on their knees bleeding due to having to not only work for nothing but to refund the earnings made in commissions for the past year when a client is due a refund. The cruise lines should give the credits to the agency who made the cancelled reservation.

“They (the online agency) should consider ‘pivoting’ their business to something else, instead of prying from travel agents who did the initial work. I would like to think that Australians would consider supporting their local travel agent or an agent referred rather than a faceless company online.”

Bicton’s sales and marketing manager Barry Downs in Perth said that many cruise lines provide FCC to the client and the original agency who made the booking and the FCC is not transferable.

Travel Associates manager in Melbourne, Kathy Pavlidis urged Australian travellers to use their FCC and book with their local CLIA travel agent to support the agency community.