While most agents spoken to by Cruise Week say they are not directly impacted by Carnival Corp.’s North American brands’ plans to restrict third party bidding on trademark search terms effective in January, it's still a hot topic. The industry publication asked representatives of key retail groups for their perspective.
Vacation.com CEO Steve Tracas has concerns with the premise of the new policy. "I’m always concerned when a particular supplier goes direct to the consumer or inhibits a travel agency from marketing their product through any vehicle," he says. "The paying of placement within Google is a cost of distribution, just as is paying commissions."
While Tracas says he understands there are extenuating circumstances, he adds: "The end game is the policy does prohibit a certain segment of the travel agency community from competing with direct business." Tracas notes there are plenty of cruise options out there, and the other big lines have not adopted such a policy.
On the other hand, John Mast, V.P. Marketing for Expedia CruiseShipCenters, says he’s not overly surprised by the move: "This is not really new news to us, as other partners of ours — Expedia Inc. and Aeroplan — bids have been limited by trademark keyword bidding restrictions for years."
Mast observes it would actually have been easy for the lines to simply have Google and the big search engines block the use of their trademarked terms, pending legal approval by the trademark owner. "That’s standard practice, and the big search companies enforce this on a regular basis," he says.
Whatever policy is chosen, Mast does not expect a dramatic impact on business. "The cruise lines have been in a high bidding mode against us for some time now in terms of their brand keywords," he says. "It’s expensive to bid on these terms. As the costs have been driven up over time, we have slowly backed off anyway."
The response of retailers like Expedia CruiseShipCenters is to adapt. "We work just as hard at getting ourselves ranked naturally for our key terms, so we show up in the online listings — these are not paid and tend to be seen as far more credible by consumers generally speaking," said Mast.