Are The Cruise Lines Using “The Politics of Fear” to Sell You Shore Excursions?
Written by: Kuki
It wasn’t so long ago that the cruise lines didn’t have anything at all to do with selling passengers shore excursions. The sale of shore excursions to guests, and the “shopping talks“; recommending stores in ports of call were left entirely to the ship’s Cruise Directors. The revenue to be made from organizing and selling shore excursions, or recommending stores, basically served as a type of bonus for the Cruise Directors. You’d often see Cruise Directors in ports of call leaving various shops with their “payola”.
Eventually the cruise lines recognized the potential profitability of increasing their own revenues by taking this over from their Cruise Directors, and establishing their own shore excursion and “recommended shops” programs.
After retiring as Cruise Directors, and having the contacts and experience of selling shore excursions, several began their own businesses, selling shore excursions privately to cruise passengers; basically becoming competitors of the cruise lines in that arena
At that point a rather direct battle between the cruise lines, and those offering private shore excursions developed. The cruise lines were signing contracts with shore excursion tour providers in the ports of call they were visiting, with promise of supplying large volumes of business; the catch for the tour operators being- the cruise lines began demanding the tour operators sign an exclusivity agreement; in an attempt to cut out the independent shore excursion providers. For a time this was an interesting “cat and mouse game” between the cruise lines and the provide providers
The cruise lines, as they had been — slow to get into the shore excursion business — were also slow to the Internet. The companies selling private excursions were quicker to “get” what the Internet could do for their business. And several became very well established.
When CruiseMates went public, almost 11 years ago, many of the cruise lines didn’t even a web site, and those that did had only the most basic layouts and information. It took probably 5 years, and in some cases longer, for the cruise lines to “get it”, and start seeing how important the internet was going to be to their business. They began pouring tremendous amounts of their resources into building and upgrading their own web sites, and to this day are constantly trying to stay up to date on current web trends, social networking and social media sites. And, of course, with the capital and resources available to them they have in most ways changed the way the cruise industry does business on the Internet
One of the areas that has been significantly altered by these “evolutions” is the Shore Excursion Departments
The cruise lines used to tell passengers once they were onboard that they need to book their shore excursions as soon as possible, because the popular tours sell out quickly. And they promoted the idea that by booking shore excursions with the ship was a much safer alternative than booking your own tours. They promoted the notion that booking a ship’s tour was the only way to guarantee you wouldn’t miss the ship’s departure.
Today, the cruise lines are using the same tactics to promote their shore excursions, but now they try (and are pretty darn successful) at cutting out the private shore excursions providers by intimating to the passengers that they “have to” book their shore excursions in advance, using the cruise line web site, because “the most popular tours sell out in advance, etc, etc , etc. The same tactics of old, but updated with the use of technology.
In some cases the cruise lines even intimate that passengers will not allowed to leave the ship in a port of call without booking a ship’s excursion, unless they have pre-arranged and purchased expensive Visas.
This tactic is very commonly used on lines visiting St. Petersburg, Russia… where in fact all of the legitimate private tour companies in Russian also supply the necessary tourist Visa.
The big “scare tactic” is to suggest to passengers that if they book excursions, other than those sold by the cruise lines, they will be missing the ship’s departure, and in that case will be stuck meeting the ship in its next port of call, at their own expense. This is true, but…..
Though it probably has happened to someone, it’s simply not that common for people doing their own tours to miss the ship’s departure. All of the major private tour companies make their living providing the tours, and getting people back to the ship on time. They know it would be their “death knell” if word got out that people booking with them were missing their ship’s departure times. It is also true that there have been cases of ship’s shore excursions returning to the port to find they had missed the ship’s departure.
Even when a ship knows on it’s excursions has not returned on time, though the ship will wait as long as it can for it’s excursion to return, there have been cases where they had to leave a group behind.In those incidents, it’s the responsibility of the cruise line to get it’s guests to the ship’s next port of call, not the passenger. But the inconvenience factor is the same.
Don’t allow the cruise lines “politics of fear” scare you off some wonderful private shore excursion opportunities which can provide a far superior experience than what the cruise line can provide. One has to remember that a shore tour operates only as fast as the slowest participant. Therefore organizing your own small groups for a private tour most often allows you more time to see the sites you’re visiting, and also allows you to customize your tours to add sites that the larger tours simply don’t have time to deal with.
Often the smaller tours can get access in and out of places that the larger tour buses simply can’t get close to. When opting to do private tours, do your research; know what you want to see; be aware of the area you’re visiting; and understand you are indeed responsible to get bacl to the ship before it sails. But the fact is all of those responsibilities are not onerous, and in my opinion can greatly increase your enjoyment of your time in ports you’ve visiting. Fact is the cruise lines have found this system of “pre-selling” so successful, now some have expanded the premise to get you to reserve entertainment, alternate dining venue reservations, and even spa treatments. Some folks will view all this as a service; an amenity to assist them, having things in place before they travel. I view it as a well polished campaign to get my extra spending decisions made before I even come onboard.
For those with mobility issues, and those with a very low sense of adventure before they hit their stress levels, booking ships shore excursions is still a good idea.
But it’s been my own personal experience that I can see more, and get more done, and do much less waiting, when doing independent tours. In many ports of call we’ve managed well with no set tours at all. If not a bit adventurous we wouldn’t have the beautiful 12 piece setting of tableware we found wandering the streets of Lisbon, Portugal several years back.
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Posted: June 14th, 2011 under Kuki.