The Ruby Princess. Photo: Ivan T.
Princess Cruises now has a shore excursion price guarantee virtually identical to one launched last year by sister company Carnival Cruise Line. But agents don't appear to be embracing it.
In a recent email communication to agents, John Chernesky, Princess’s vice president of North America sales, pitched the guarantee to cruise agents as a bid “to boost our guests' confidence in the value we offer.”
Any client who books a Princess shore excursion in advance of sailing, and then finds the same excursion offered by a third-party vendor for a lower price, can submit a claim for 110% of the price difference in the form of a non-refundable onboard credit. The excursion has to match exactly—the same date, time, duration, meals, fees, etc., to a Princess tour.
“We'll be testing this program on select 2016 Europe and Alaska itineraries.Some of your clients will be introduced to the Best Price Guarantee via pre-cruise emails and a banner in the Cruise Personalizer—giving them another compelling reason to enhance their voyage by purchasing Princess Shore Excursions before they depart,” Chernesky wrote.
But agents told TMR the program gets a big thumbs-down.
“For a lot of clients, especially older ones or professional people who are very busy, it's not going to be worth a savings of maybe $25 to spend hours on line looking for the exact same excursion. They book it and let it go,” says Marsha Rosner, owner of Rosner Travel in Marietta, GA.
Millennials, on the other hand, will do the research, she said. “They will look at other excursion options, but I don't know that they would go back to a cruise line and say, 'We found this for less.' ”
Rather than implementing a price guarantee, Rosner said cruise lines ought to pay agents 10% commission on shore excursions. Because they do not, she always books excursions with ShoreTrips!, a third-party company founded by former travel agents that pays commission. “ShoreTrips! does an outstanding job with its excursions. My clients have had great experiences with them,” she said.
“We're not a freebie service,” Rosner said. “If we book excursions for our clients you still have to do paperwork and spend some time, and our time is valuable too. We need to get paid something. My feeling is that the lines are trying to keep all the money they can and not pay agents anything.”
Nanci Londeree, owner of Orlando-based Windermere Travel, a Travelsavers agency, agreed.
She provides a link to a cruise line's shore excursion pages and tells clients to read the descriptions and book tours themselves.
“Third-party vendors often require group space,” she noted, “and sometimes you can't book an excursion for just two people. It's not as easy as it sounds. So unless it's a really good client, I do not do their shore excursions. It's a lot of work, you have to go through all the options then go back through them two and three times.”
It's an effort, she says, that ought to be worth at least 10% commission from the cruise lines.
Another agent, who asked not to be identified, said it would be far more cost-effective if the lines paid commission.
“Most travel agents would find it easier and more cost-effective to book with the cruise line instead of all the companies where we currently book shore excursions,” she said. “I would not have my staff waste one second informing our clients of this [price guarantee]. We would already have them booked where we make a profit—after all we are in the business of travel. Why would we want our clients to have to do additional work?”
It's unknown how many cruisers actually do the research and file claims to receive the difference in shore excursion costs. Neither Carnival Cruise Line nor Chernesky at Princess replied to our request for a number.