Bob Hoelscher

Thoughts on Three Current Cruise Industry Challenges

 
 

Bob Hoelscher
Published May 06, 2018

The cruise industry is experiencing boom times, and demand shows no signs of softening. But there are some business and operations issues that cruise lines would do well to address now. Here are three of interest to me.

 

Plastic water bottles

It’s time for ostensibly environmentally sensitive cruise lines to install readily-available water bottle fillers like those found at National Park Service units throughout the United States.

Many readers have likely heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, where, reportedly, about 10 percent of all the plastic produced worldwide ends up in a gargantuan floating ocean mess. But dealing with mountains of plastic waste generated by 21st-century civilization is a huge problem on land, too.

Although I understand the fiscal appeal, at least for most mass-market lines, of selling 10-cent bottles of water for $3 plus 18 percent gratuity, unless they abandon this ill-considered “profit center” and encourage guests to use and easily refill their personal water containers, touting millions of dollars being spent on new green engine technology seems just a bit hollow.

Port overcrowding

This month, the mammoth new 167,800-ton Norwegian Bliss begins service to Alaska, bringing about 4,000 guests on each trip. While I’m sure it will be a great ship, it is also the largest vessel ever to cruise Alaskan waters and begs the question of how many more such behemoths can be accommodated in relatively small ports like Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway.

During my May 2017 Oosterdam call in Ketchikan, six large ships disgorged enough guests to make simply walking around this normally charming community a significantly compromised, elbow-to-elbow experience. In March, I found a similar situation in Cozumel, Mexico, also with six huge vessels in port simultaneously. And finding three to four vessels abreast is becoming more and more routine in Europe’s river towns.

With demand for cruising at an all-time high, I’m not sure I have a solution, but finding interesting new ports would be high on my list. A recent stop at Santo Tomas de Castilla, Guatemala, on Norwegian Jade reminded me that I had not visited this country on dozens of previous Caribbean sailings. Here we were the only ship in port, and although the country’s tourism infrastructure is not extensive, an excellent guide and our time at a luxury seaside resort made our visit most worthwhile.

3. Pricing games

A close friend and veteran cruiser just sent me the following story regarding a cruise line we’ll call ABC.

“Last April, we paid $2,200 each for a standard balcony cabin on our 16-day cruise. The itinerary has been shown as ‘sold out’ in recent months. Yesterday, I checked again and saw that balcony cabins are now being offered for $899 per person, and there were at least a dozen available. So, I called ABC, and, of course, the lower fare is for new bookings only and cannot be applied to our cruise.

“We had purchased the ABC insurance, which includes ‘cancel for any reason’ protection in the form of a future cruise credit for the nonrefundable portion of the amount that we paid. So, I cancelled the cruise, got a refund of $1,100 and a future credit of $3,300. Then I booked a new balcony cabin at the $899 rate. So, we saved a lot, but the only problem now is that we must use the credit within one year. But ABC made it as difficult as possible for us to cancel and rebook, including with the shore excursions and transfers we had prepaid.”

Group coordinators and professional cruise agents need to be aware that some but not all cruise lines play games like this and need to be prepared to deal effectively with their sales representative before a group member discovers the “fire sale” and passes the word around that the group has apparently been cheated.