Two months ago, the six largest U.S. airlines decided to stop paying most commissions to travel agents who sell their tickets. Airline industry analysts said the commissions were an unnecessary expense at a time when carriers are struggling to restore their financial health following Sept. 11.
But the decision to end commissions which had been continually reduced since 1995 had major implications for travel agencies throughout the nation. Some said the airlines' decision forced them to revamp their businesses, and to charge consumers higher service fees for booking airline tickets. Some, like Rim Travel in Payson, closed their doors forever in the wake of seeing as much as 50 percent of their profits fly away.
And everyone agreed that, if the neighborhood travel agency was going to survive in any fashion, it would have to undergo a radical change.
Hence, the proliferation across the country of travel agencies with a whole new focus just like Cruise Port, the full-service agency that has been residing in Rim Travel's former storefront since February.
As its name implies, Cruise Port specializes in sending its clients around the world via luxury ships, and in taking care of all of their land and vacation package needs.
The company also sells airline tickets, owner Ralph Schessler said, but for a $30 service fee.
Schessler, a longtime industry veteran, retired from the conventional side of the business three years ago, when he left Daybreak Travel in Fountain Hills and started up a home-based cruise-only business out of his new Payson home.
"I was doing very well just selling cruises," he said. "My decision to move the business from my home happened at just about the same time I saw the 'For Rent' sign on this building. Rim Travel did such a wonderful job, this seemed like the ideal location."
Schessler's next step was to team up with Claudia Humphrey and use her 30-year industry experience. Their combined talents, Schessler said, have turned into "a boon for us.
"Claudia is very strong in land and cruise packages, and I'm a master cruise counselor certified by the Cruise Lines International Association and there's less than 3,000 of us in the whole world," he said. "So between us, there isn't a vacation package we can't help you save money on."
The popularity of cruises, Schessler said, is not simply the result of the new direction his industry has taken. World events have had considerable impact, too.
"Cruises were popular before 9/11, but since then people have started deciding that they want to stay closer to home," he said. "The cruise lines sensed that, and they moved a lot of their ships from Europe to ports around the United States. And we're filling them up partly because the client perceives that this is a pretty safe value with a lot of options."
The primary benefit of cruising over other forms of vacation travel, Schessler said, is that "you unpack once and see the world. The ship is your home. You can go ashore and see all the sights and take all the tours you want in a certain port, and that evening you're back on the ship."
The best bargains on the horizon, he added, are Alaskan and Mexican Riviera cruises, which are "filling up fast," and the Caribbean, "where the best values are right now."
Cruise Port is at 408 S. Beeline Highway, Suite A.
For more information, call 472-7878.