Group Competition Heats Up In The Caribbean
Cruise Week

Agents concerned about group prices being undermined by falling cruise fares can take heart from Celebrity’s new pricing policy for 2010 Caribbean groups. “With all the noise in the marketplace right now about group difficulties, we had to do something that is much more real than is out there today,” says Senior VP Dondra Ritzenthaler.

“Something real” means that agents blocking 2010 group space for a limited time will retain a price advantage for the booking no matter what happens to FIT rates. The program begins for agents taking out Caribbean group space during the last week of August. “Agents blocking group space during that week will always have anywhere from a $25 price advantage on the three- to five-day sailings, $50 on the six- to nine-night itineraries and $100 on the 10- or more night departures,” Ritzenthaler says.

Similar price protection advantages will be in place for Alaska 2010 groups booked during the last week of September and group space blocked during the last week of October for Celebrity 2010 Europe sailings.

“As an example, if an agent takes out group space in the last week of August for any Caribbean 2010 sailing, for a cruise that costs $1,000, then the agent’s client will pay $900,” says Ritzenthaler. “If the price goes down to $800, then we will take that group price to $800 plus give them that same $100 price advantage, so their price goes to $700. The price advantage continues for the life of the group.”

The group push comes as Celebrity gears up for a massive increase in Caribbean itineraries next year. On the short cruise side, Century will operate year-round four- and five-night sailings. But the big growth is in seven-night or longer sailings, with Solstice doing year-round and a total of seven Celebrity ships sailing the Caribbean in winter: Solstice, Eclipse, Equinox, Summit, Constellation, Millennium, and Mercury.

With so much at stake, Celebrity is working to be heard in the Caribbean against strong, entrenched competition. As Gerry Cahill, CEO of Caribbean capacity leader Carnival, told Cruise Week recently in regards to the European exodus back to Caribbean for 2010: “The people coming back have to compete against us.”

Carnival is not just sitting back and waiting for the competition to arrive. Joni Rein, CCL VP of Worldwide Sales, reports that the cruise giant is enhancing BookCCL in the group automation area in early 2010. “Carnival is committed to providing our valued travel partners with automation solutions….focusing on continuous improvement of e-channel tools,” says Rein.

She advises agents to block group space as a base but take advantage of tactical rates the guest can qualify for and book those residents early saver and past guest special fares into the group. “Instant access to low-cost fares and 24/7 access to availability and management of groups will make agents more efficient and productive while driving down the cost of managing their business,” she says. “Some of the new e-only policies are driving huge increases in the use of electronic channels for group reservation berthing.”

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