The boss of Marella Cruises has defended the line’s relationship with third-party agents, saying that sales through independents are better than ever.

Speaking on board Marella Explorer’s shakedown cruise from Palma to Barcelona, where around 40 of the 700 retail staff onboard are third party agents, Chris Hackney said working with non-Tui agents was “a key area” for the line.

When questioned on Marella’s strategy for third party agents, he said: “We are seeing real growth in terms of our third-party agents which is great.

“Our third-party sales have grown over the last two years and are 60% up year-on-year this year. It is a key area for us.”

Hackney added that the line needed to make sure it encourages third-party distribution by hosting educationals, giving talks and offering e-learning tools.

Marella invested in an e-learning section, called Discover Marella Cruises, for agents on its website which launched in February.

Hackney added: “The investment we have put in with that e-learning tool and doing educationals, such as this one, gives [third party agents] a chance to see our product and meant that they have sold Marella better really than they ever have done.”

Hackney would not reveal how much of Marella’s capacity was sold through third-party agents when asked.

From May next year, Marella will go all-inclusive across its fleet, including Marella Explorer 2 which launches in April 2019.

Hackney said the switch made “a lot of sense”, adding that 90% of customers were choosing the all-inclusive package.

“We have seen the uptakes really increase over the last two to three years,” Hackney said. “It was getting to a stage where 90% of our customers were going all-inclusive.

“It gives the chance to talk about our all inclusive offering, which I believe is quite strong.”