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NEWS SPECIAL REPORT


A hike in gratuity rates by Royal Caribbean and Celebrity Cruises reignited the debate about onboard tipping. Amie Keeley and Harry Kemble report


L CRUISE


The great gratuities debate


News that Royal Caribbean International and Celebrity Cruises have upped their gratuities by 7% prompted dozens of responses from cruisers on consumer forums (Travel Weekly, January 4).


Some questioned whether


the service they receive justified the hike. Some asked if charging gratuities meant cruise lines get away with paying staff low basic salaries. And some wondered if the tips even went to the staff. Others said they were happy


to reward hardworking crew for the long hours they put in to make their holidays as good as possible. So which lines charge the most,


why do gratuities even exist and are they justified?


Why do gratuities exist?


The concept of automatic gratuities stemmed from cruise ships being a cashless environment. Generally, passengers did not carry wads of cash and so were unable to reward crew members for excellent service.


It also became a way to distribute tips fairly to all the crew, including those behind the scenes working just as hard as the butler that passengers saw every day. Lines justify the cost by claiming a superior level of customer service guests receive on a cruise ship compared with a hotel or resort on land. “When we do our survey of guests, one of their top reasons they give to cruise is the service levels, so we stand up well against other sectors,” says Andy Harmer, Clia’s senior vice-president for membership. “In cruise you get to build up a


relationship with the crew – you see them several times a day – compared to a hotel where you might not see the person turning down your bed at all.” Ben Bouldin, associate vice-


president of Royal Caribbean International and managing director for the UK and Ireland, agrees. “Gratuities are something our customers are comfortable with because they understand the


10 travelweekly.co.uk 11 January 2018


outstanding level of service.” However, as one agent told


Travel Weekly: “If a cruise line is going to increase its gratuities, it had better make sure its customer service is impeccable”. It is accepted that American cruisers are more than happy to pay automatic gratuities, often in


advance of their cruise, but Brits much less so. Cruise lines have adapted their policies to reflect the different markets they sell in, allowing cruise customers to opt out of paying auto-gratuities at the end of their cruise when they pay their final bill. “[In Britain] we don’t have a


They said it: views on gratuities


“Gratuity fees should be phased out, not increased. They are an archaic way of paying salaries, they should be included in the fare.” DAVID SPEAKMAN, chairman, Travel Counsellors


“I wish all cruise companies would include them [gratuities], then everyone would pay the same. It would stop a lot of people asking for them to be taken off once on board.” TRAVEL AGENT, name withheld


“As customers, we would never take off service and hotel charges but, in a way, I hope many do. You never know, we might yet see the dawn of non-deductible service or all-inclusive charges on cruises. If all passengers paid their gratuities on a two-week cruise, that would be $578,000 on Eclipse – getting a little silly, don’t you think? The cruise lines are cutting back and increasing gratuities.” CONSUMER on Cruise.co.uk forum


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GRATUITIES


PICTURE: SHUTTERSTOCK


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