The divorce rate in the US is still at about 50% and I suspect the "divorce rate" in travel is about the same. Are suppliers on the verge of divorcing MLM and Card Mill agencies? I think so!
Carnival Cruise Lines just filed an amendment to their 1st Quarter 2008 Earnings Estimates with the SEC a few days ago. While Carnival is grappling with fuel costs just as every other cruise line, they also listed another culprit--softness in onboard spending. From Travel Trade:
Carnival Corp. reduced its first-quarter profit estimate because of higher fuel costs and "softness" in onboard spending, according to documents the company filed Tuesday with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.Now as anyone who has been in the industry for a while knows, the amount of commission has been dwindling across all brands. The suppliers are implementing these vague "non-commissionable" fees. Carnival has seemingly led the pack in these and also in cutting the cruise fare in order to bring cruising to the masses.
There was a day when all Carnival commissions were at least three digits to the left of the decimal. Now, with the reduction of the commissionable fares and the drop in prices, many commission checks are under $100. Obviously this should be a big savings to Carnival; but is it?
The cruise lines also realize the huge importance of onboard revenue. Look at the newer ships coming online. The ports of call are becoming almost secondary when you can ice skate, box, surf, eat at Johnny Rockets, relax in a suspended hot tub, shop, dine, gamble, drink and be entertained--all on board one ship.*** The sea days are becoming more frequent, and the hours in ports are becoming shorter. All this is being done in the name of increasing onboard revenue. I know when I cruise with my three kids, I can celebrate if my tab at the end of the week is less than $1000.
So, with all the changes to hold the audience captive, one would not expect "softness". But, it is an issue with Carnival. And what does it have to do with MLM?
Sure MLM is putting people in berths on ships for Carnival, but are they the people Carnival really wants? Seems not. When you price a product so low, you do attract a less affluent crowd. I also suspect that the majority of the MLM business given to the cruise lines is for personal travel--perhaps even on discounted travel. It has been my contention that MLM attracts the downtrodden and those least able to afford a loss in exchange for the promises of riches.
I wonder if these self booking MLM folks are simply taking the cruise because it is the ONLY way they can afford to cruise when you factor in the rebate on their commission? After all, there are 142,000 RTAs and 303,000 Reps in the YTB program alone.
So those people likely do not account for a line wide softness. I know that some actually sell travel to clients. A few, but there are some. I also suspect that with 142,000 RTAs--they are not setting the proper expectation for the client. Cruises are NOT all inclusive, but I suspect that in the land of RTAs they are sold as such. So, when a client boards and is asked for a credit card, it might come as a shock. On top of it, they need to pay for booze, excursions, onboard shopping, gambling, some food, tipping, etc. For the client that is cruising for the first time, this is a shocker!
Given the premise that MLM draws from the pool of people least able to afford a loss, one wonders where the true clients they book are being pulled from. Most likely their own circle of influence (per the MLM Mantra) which is indeed filled with those least able to afford the luxury of cruising.
Are they going to come back and buy more travel? Maybe. But I bet it is not on any regular basis. Is Carnival getting a good deal here? Doubtful.
There is a fixed cost to run a ship. When they have reduced the fares below that cost and are banking on onboard revenue to make up the difference, the odds are worse than in their casinos.
In the case of YTB, they are claiming to have sold $500M in travel in 2007. I have heard that nearly 40% of that is with Carnival Cruise Lines. So Carnival has likely sold nearly a quarter billion dollars at near cost with very little chance of making it up in onboard revenue. I would love to see the OBR reports for the Birthday Bash cruise. My guess is that they are dismal and I hope that Gerry Cahill takes a look at them.
Again, MLM is likely doing a disservice to the clients. Clients are expecting one thing and the RTAs are merely selling the product with minimal knowledge or in some cases ethics all in the hopes of building the downline or earning the Director's Ring. Just go to my website. If you have a problem, call Carnival. Remember, a person at YTB assured me that Carnival sailed from Denver back in November during the sale.
Cheap is as cheap gets. Carnival is good product and it has come a long way over the years. They have been a HUGE friend to the agency community with special thanks to Vicki Freed. Travel Agents have consistently found the right client for the right ship for the right itinerary. We were more than order takers. We directed the clients to particular ships (and if it was not a CCL ship, so be it) but it was done in the interest of the client. Now it seems Carnival is content to pay 16% commission to people who merely point the client right back to Carnival.
Gerry Cahill is beginning to wake up I think; and as I said in a previous post, there will be some changes coming down this year. Carnival is discovering that the clients are pinching pennies harder than ever before and a good number of those penny pinchers are coming from the MLM pipeline!
MLM is not good for the industry and slowly, I think the suppliers are beginning to see that.
Hey, MLMers... what is the difference between a commission check from Carnival Cruise Lines and one from Crystal Cruise Lines? (tune in tomorrow for the answer)
*** This would be a RCCL ship.