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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.
- A View From The Kuki Side of Cruising

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Comments

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time June 15, 2011 at 6:37 am

Shore excursion issues are a sore and a good spot, at least in some ports. Try getting into Sandals in St. Lucia, for example, without a pre-booked excursion booked on line from home before you get on the ship. Probably won’t happen.

In Hawaii, hhelicop-ter tours are a dime a dozen ashore, and cheaper than those sold on the ship, or by the cruise line.

Some take umbrage in the knowledge that the cruise line knows if you excursion is late back to the ship, and will wait. I say this only from personal experience, the premium and luxury lines are better at delayed sailings than the mass market lines.

We rarely book excursions ashore, and did last summer in Naples, and it was lousy, all 9 hours of it, we saw nothing, had pizza in what turned out to be a “chain” pizzeria, went around the same streets, and were lied to about the price. If this happened to me, it surely can happen to anyone.

At last if you have a guide from a ship booked excursiona, he/she should hopefully have a good command of English.

One thing that can make or break a day trip, the walking symbols, usually 4 to one walking figues, and when it is four, the walk may be rough for some, look for them on the ships provided excursion lists.

As for shopping, shopping on shore excursions is pure fluff, mainly, cheesy souvernirs, and A MEAL – good God, forget that.

I personally feel that not every passenger on a cruise can and should arrange their own excursions on the dock. UNLESS they are truly experienced in traveling.

Comment from Dave Beers
Time June 15, 2011 at 9:58 am

The practice is especially egregious in tender ports such as Grand Cayman, where the insinuation clearly is “the first tenders are only for our tour groups”, although that is not true. Yet places such as Grand Cayman (or Cozumel and just about every other place in the Caribbean) are perfectly safe to do your own tours, even if you’ve never been there. First time cruisers are especially susceptible to the fear mongering.

It’s just like the port shopping talks with all of their dire warnings about shopping in the ‘wrong’ stores.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time June 17, 2011 at 5:25 am

Yes, doing your own thing a la taking a tour – in the Caribean, for the most part is very safe. Not even a tour, to the beach, although most resorts do not welcome cruise passengers any longer.

David, maybe you could write a comment on how to secure safe cabs or vans, and how to guarantee your price and return to the ship.

I’ve done it for years, and have NEVER been taken for a ride!

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time June 18, 2011 at 4:17 am

Okay, I fibbed – I was taken for a ride, literally and figuratively, in Naples – awful 9 hours of NOTHING –

we struck our deal with a driver well versed in English in Naples, and opff we wnt, the4 sifgts, and for a sumptuous lunch(lunch on our own) – to make a long story short, afterall, how long can one opine about a rotten excursion that went nowhere,, I will just say, be carefull on your own.

The price was not what he honored, he even refused to take us back to the pier, and said we could stay in Naples if we did not pay his NEW outrageous price.

The lunch on our own – pizza – in a strip mall, a chain, albeit, a decent pizza -

To make things even more obnoxious, he claimed he could not speak English.

Comment from Kenneth Eden
Time June 18, 2011 at 7:23 am

Touching base with Dave Beers comment that the first tenders are for our tour groups – that bother me no end.

Cunard does this, loads everyone up in a public room, be it theatre, pub , Queens Room, everyone gets a number, as to their alloted “place” for their shore excursion, and then after waiting – how long – depends, your tour number is called – bammo – you get to go ashore, to your bus, in mass confusion as to where which and why you are going on “your bus”. Holland America does it too, and it seems even longer a wait on HAL. I hate this. I have even been handed the BIG SIGN with a tour/bus letter on it, and told to take “your people to the bus!!!” I am not a guide, nor do I know where to take anyone, let alone myself.

Sure, the tours must get off the ship and they must meet time schedules, however, not everyone is on a tour, and why should we non tour pax have to wait hours to get off the ship – in port – or at anchor??

SHOPPING gets a bad rap, especially when the cruise director suggests a certain shop or where to find a certain item ashore. On the take or not, sometimes it may pay to shop where the cruise director suggests, that is strictly a personal thing, to be sure.

Our dear friends from Vermont wanted diamond rings for their 25th and St. Kitts was the last port. Our cruise ditrector, from the Regatta, suggested, DI, or course, and only the one in ST. Kitts was willing to call their credit union, in Vermont, to verify funds, and ONLY with the name and eventual visit of the cruise director to the shop, was the sale transacted. So, there can be happy endings to all sorts of mishmash on a cruise, a lot of fond memories came from that cruise directors and her visit to DI.

Comment from Ms Stefanie
Time January 29, 2013 at 8:57 am

Many cruise lines offer ‘standard’ excursions receiving commission for your booking. These shore trips take you with hundreds of other tourist to places where you can even spent more money on souvenirs which have nothing to do with the place your visiting.

Independent tour operators can take you off-the-beaten-path and let you meet the locals. For private amsterdam shore excursions have a look at http://www.holland-is.com, for small group shore trips http://www.amsterdamshoreexcursions.com

Ask for references if you are not certain about quality of the tour. A reliable independent guide will have NO problem providing you several references (e-mails, phone numbers).

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