While Australians can hop on a plane and cruise anywhere around the world, the fear and confusion of complicated travel rules is holding many people back.
This is making travel agents – and more specifically cruise agents and specialists – more important than ever before. However, rather than try and convince you as to why you should book your next cruise through an agent, we thought we’d ask some leading cruise agents tell you themselves.
How has booking a cruise become more difficult since the pandemic?
Sharon Summerhayes Director of Deluxe Travel and Cruise says missing something in the fine print can be more costly than ever.
“Navigating the requirements for travel at the moment is very involved and if you miss one thing, it could result in being denied boarding.”
“With requirements ever-changing, it’s very important to keep on top of what’s required, and keep the traveller informed every step of the way. A big issue for cruisers has been the lack of cruise cover travel insurance which is thankfully changing with some insurers.”
Michelle Levins Director of My Cruise Concierge adds that it’s a whole new climate to be booking in.
“Cruises have become more difficult to book due to confusion with border and testing requirements. The cruise lines also have varying policies surrounding credits, refunds and shifting cruises, it is a minefield!”
“Most cruise lines, airlines and countries have requirements such as being fully vaccinated a minimum of 14 days prior to travel, but this is not the case with all. Testing can be costly as PCR-RT tests are required, so this should be budgeted for in addition to travel arrangements and insurance.”
How can a travel agent ease this process for you?
Cruise Traveller Managing Director Craig Bowen says agents can hold you hand right through the new complicated processes.
“Travel has become a little more complicated but travel agents can guide and support you through the process and advise you of any restrictions a country or cruise line has in place, from the requirement of being vaccinated through to taking PCR tests.”
“As cruise specialists, we are fortunate also to be able to book our guests under very flexible conditions – often without deposit or with refundability options – so there’s not much risk and a whole lot of reward.”
In terms of what an agent can help you with, Lana Kanchik, Cruise Specialist and Travel Agent with TravelManagers says the answer is simple, it’s everything.
“Absolutely everything! Starting with rules and requirements of the cruise lines, port of calls, CPR tests, shore excursions, embarkation process as well as booking pre-departure COVID tests at the lower possible cost as they are varied depending on the laboratory.”
Ms Levins adds that agents are familiar with the cruise lines policies themselves.
“Cruise agents are familiar with the cruise line policies. If clients have questions that cannot be immediately sourced, agents have contacts to assist with acquiring accurate information.”
‘ We have systems that also pull data from IATA that is updated regularly to help you have access to the most current information.’
What can cruise agents help you with that you might not realise?
Ms Levins says agents can help with anything from a special hurrah to an emergency call.
“Many cruise specialists have contacts within cruise lines to obtain extra information for their clients. We know the right questions to ask.”
“Apart from covid related information we can also assist with making a celebration special, ensure you get a cabin in the right position on the ship or help you decide between different ships for the right cruise to suit your needs. Agents can assist in times of emergency, I have clients stranded in a snowstorm.”
“A 15 minute phone call and we had them reissued and on the way while hundreds of others were waiting at airline desks to be served.”
Ms Summerhayes says agents can help fill in the gaps you don’t see and personalise your travel with a special touch.
“If you’re cruising for an anniversary, birthday or other special occasion we can make that day extra special for you onboard. We also know the ports which can be a long way from the pre-stay city and not easy to get to.”
“There would be nothing worse than arriving at the wrong port in a big city with many ports! Group and multi-generation family travel can be personalised with ease through a cruise specialist agent ensuring everyone gets the best fit for them.”
Can cruise agents get you better prices than retail?
While many cruisers at the moment are primarily concerned with safety and complicated rules at the moment, it never hurts to shave a few dollars off your booking. Can agents help with this? Ms Kanchik says they can.
“Yes, most of the time!”
“Being a part of the well-known travel network we have access to negotiated rates specifically for Travel Managers and also group allocations created by cruise lines.”
Mr Bowen says cut-price deals extend not just to cruises but also to flights and hotel stays.
“We have access to the absolute best deals out there! And as a wholesaler, we actively negotiate with cruise lines, hotels and airlines to get you a better, all-round package price than the sum of the parts.”
“Agents can source these packages for their guests and offer all kinds of bonuses like free flights, free hotel stays, bonus onboard credits and an all-round great price!”
Ms Summerhayes says not only can you get a reduced price but agents can also see availability that the general consumer might not be able to.
“Absolutely we can! We secure bulk cabins on season release usually at a cheaper rate than retail.”
“Also, not just price – availability that you can’t see. I have cabin types on some Celebrity cruises that are sold out direct or other retail agents. Booking online you may be missing out on saving literally thousands of dollars.”
Can your agent help you if restrictions change while you’re overseas?
Ms Summerhayes says at this point, it’s a case of ‘been there done that’.
“We’ve done this before. Hopefully we won’t have to again to the same extent, but we are prepared if we do.”
“Booking with an agent, you have them in your corner to rearrange your trip at the drop of a hat. I repatriated many clients before the borders closed last year and got everyone home safe and sound, and in time.”
“Having an agent book your trip entirely will ensure they know where you are at all times and be able to monitor for you while you’re away so you can enjoy your trip without the stress.”
Ms Levins echoes that an agent will be with you every step of the way.
“ Our clients can check in with as at any stage to check on their future arrangements, before and during their booking.”
“We will always source the most current information, we understand that as Australians travel for longer trips abroad they will need to check in with us half way through their holiday to see if information has changed.”
Ms Kanchik says that certain agents such as herself, will be there 24/7 for any COVID crises or other issues.
“It depends on the agent. I for once am available for my clients the whole time during their traveling with 24/7 support regardless of the time in Sydney. I will be working tirelessly ( and already had) to make sure my clients are getting all the support, communication with the cruise company, airlines, and so on, and doing everything possible to get them safely home.”
Final words on why you need an agent
Mr Bowen says it all comes down to one thing.
“Value, value, value. And did we mention value? Don’t forget experience – it really can’t be ignored.”
“We call it ‘qualifying your guest’ in the industry, but that generally means that when you come in looking for a trip to say Alaska and you say you “can’t wait to see a bear”, a good cruise specialist will know you need a small ship or expedition.”
“This will narrow down your search and save you lots of time. They can then recommend ships and companies based on your comfort level and budget.”
“That’s what a good cruise agent does – they make good recommendations that will result in delight rather than disappointment.”
“It’s like this – sure you can cut your own hair – but if you want it done properly, you go to a hairdresser. So give your holiday the same love and respect – go to an experienced travel agent – they know their stuff!”
Ms Levins says an agents combination of connections and first-hand knowledge just can’t be matched.
“Better pricing, better service and a cruise package tailored towards you, the client.”
“Most cruise specialists are widely travelled on many different cruise lines and destinations, having first hand information, such as when to book your shore excursions or would that city tour be something that you can do yourself, is invaluable.”
Ms Summerhayes offers the decisive advantages.
“Expertise is number 1. We’ve cruised more than most people and know what you don’t. We know the best cabins, which ones to avoid, the best itineraries and which ports to book a ‘spa day’ instead.”
“Number 2 is service in that we complete your entire itinerary from front door to front door. Number 3 is price – you may save a little, or you may save thousands booking with an agent. Not just for cruises, but for flights, hotels and tours too.”
Ms Summerhayes adds that at the core, travel agents and love to travel and they want you to love it as well.
“Your travel agent is the most passionate person you know when it comes to travel and we love talking about it. We want you to have an amazing holiday, as much as you do. We will do everything we can to ensure you’ll be talking about your trip for many, many years to come.’