It’s all very well for P&O to promote the value for money they say their cruises provide, but should they be doing it at the expense of their crew?
Even without the savings on offer in the company’s winter sale, the all-inclusive experience on board – including meals and entertainment – represents a holiday bargain. Throw in discounts of up to £2,500 and on-board credit of up to £1,000 per couple and it’s almost irresistible.
Who would disagree with MD Carol Marlow when she says: “Today’s consumer expects to get excellent value for money, and this is especially pertinent when it is a major and emotional purchase such as a holiday. Everyone works hard and everyone wants their holiday budget to go as far as possible and to include as much as possible.”
She’s still doing OK when she starts to talk about some of the extras that other cruise lines charge for, but which are included in the P&O fare. “Cruise holidays have always offered excellent value for money but this goes far beyond the ticket price. All the little extras which turn out to be not so little need to be considered.”
P&O’s free childcare is highlighted, for example, as are the free shuttle buses to take passengers from the dock into town when it’s too far to walk.
But she starts to run into problems when she makes a big deal out of the fact that drinks are available in the ships’ bars at British pub prices – £2.95 for a pint of lager, £3.15 for a gin and tonic and £11.75 for a bottle of house wine chosen and blended by TV’s Olly Smith.
True, there are many cruise lines which charge eye-watering London club prices, but there are others which undercut P&O, and in any case there’s still a hefty profit to be made when duty-free alcohol is being sold at almost full price.
And she would have a point if she made it clearer that there are no hidden 15 per cent service charges added to P&O bar bills.
My biggest concern, however, is with her boast that P&O does not add automatic gratuities to guests’ accounts – unlike British rival Fred Olsen which is about to introduce charges of £4 a day to replace the system where passengers hand over brown envelopes stuffed with cash at the end of a cruise, and American lines whose charges can add hefty sums to the cost of a holiday.
Royal Caribbean, for example, recently announced revised guidelines which suggested that the appropriate figure was $11.65 per guest per day, or $13.90 per day for passengers travelling in a suite.
Was Ms Marlow really suggesting that P&O passengers should save by NOT tipping their cabin steward and their waiters? Her spokesperson says not, and I hope I have not misunderstood her, because except for lines such as Thomson, Saga, Voyages of Discovery, Voyages to Antiquity and Swan Hellenic (and some ultra-luxury companies like Seabourn and Silversea) who do not require any gratuities for their staff, cruise ship crew rely on tips to supplement their meagre wages.
British passengers have earned an unenviable reputation for being tight-fisted when it comes to tipping, allegedly generating a serious problem on Independence of the Seas when the Royal Caribbean ship started sailing regularly out of Southampton because its crew found themselves financially deprived compared to staff elsewhere in the fleet.
Carol, please don’t encourage your customers to be stingy – especially at this season of goodwill. Your fares ARE bargains, and most passengers will not begrudge adding extra charges for gratuities.
Oh, and another thing. The statement pushing P&O’s good value – which I do not dispute – makes no reference to the fact that, in common with sister company Cunard and competitor Fred Olsen, the line will be adding a fuel surcharge of £4 per passenger per day to guest accounts.
FOOTNOTE: My original posting suggested that P&O, like many other cruise lines, add an automatic 15 per cent gratuity to bar bills. I am happy to clarify that this is NOT the case. P&O have also asked me to make it clear that their statement never intended to suggest that they do not want passengers to tip the crew for the excellent service they provide.