Two words dominated the Association of Cruise Agents’ (ACE) UK Cruise Convention in Dover last week – change and discounts.


Change, the theme of the event, sought to inspire travel agents; the issue of discounts was raised by trade delegates angered by cruiselines they believe give bigger agents better deals, thereby stopping smaller specialists from competing.


Opening the three-day event, ACE director Andy Harmer and Royal Caribbean Cruises associate vice-president and general manager UK and Ireland Jo Rzymowska outlined how the industry had faced change in the past year – dealing with issues such as fuel surcharges, pirates and the recession – but was still investing and growing.


Some 12 million Americans and almost 1.5 million Brits took a cruise in 2008. “It is no longer a holiday for the elite, but a mainstream holiday vacation,” said Rzymowska.


Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises president and chief executive Dan Hanrahan, taking the stage to the sound of David Bowie’s Changes, closed the conference, reminding us that we live with change all our lives, whether it is in our style of clothes, careers, the evolution of cruise ships and so on.


The key message – that change is not something to be afraid of – was much needed after a hard-hitting “life isn’t fair, get used to it” talk by Complete Cruise Solution sales and customer services director Giles Hawke, which focused on the delicate issue of discounts and commission.


Taking the stage after Hawke, a shocked Hanrahan said things had been said that afternoon that one could never get away with in the US – and he was not just referring to the rather irreverent but very touching send-off Harmer’s Passenger Shipping Association and ACE colleagues had prepared to mark his last Cruise Convention before leaving to join Mundy Cruising.


Hawke’s comments might not have been welcome, but the issue of discounts and commission needed to be addressed, as there was much resentment among agents in the room about both.


Indeed, for those at the Southampton convention last year, there was a sense of déjà vu when a panel discussion, moderated by Carnival UK chief commercial officer Peter Shanks, was hijacked by talk of the discount issue.


Sadly, it happened during the Future of Cruising panel, preventing the panellists from actually dusting down their crystal balls and reading our palms. So now we will have to decide for ourselves what’s around the cruising corner.


The third ACE Cruise Convention, attended by some 600 agents, had a new, more business-like format than past events, with sessions focusing on the luxury and river cruising sectors, the importance of selling to groups, and making use of the internet and new social media sites. Over the three days, there were also ship visits and a trade fair, where agents could meet cruiselines’ sales staff.


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ACE UK Cruise Convention 2009 A Henry VIII impersonator on the Kent stand at the ACE UK Cruise Convention 2009 Musicians play on Fred Olsen Braemar at the ACE UK Cruise Convention 2009 Ice cream stand at the ACE UK Cruise Convention 2009


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