The BBC’s consumer champion, Watchdog, has been having another pop at cruise lines, criticising the system of auto-gratuities, when tips are automatically charged to your on-board account. Most mainstream lines operating out of the UK now use this system.
Regular cruisers know and accept auto-gratuities, although whether they like them or not is another matter. But to someone who had never cruised, how would cruising have come across on that Watchdog programme? Pretty absurd, probably.
One woman had been charged a £65 gratuity for an eight-month-old baby to sit in the dining room on a Royal Caribbean cruise, just because she’d opted for flexible dining (when you have to pay the tips in advance). That particular charge subsequently was removed. Another passenger was aghast at the fact that MSC was going to add $12 per person per day to her bill for tips, without even consulting her.
A regular cruiser may think, “Yes? So what?” But the fact is, Britain is not a tipping nation. It’s just not in our culture. There is no other industry I can think of where the amount of an automatic tip is dictated in advance when you, the consumer, don’t even know how good or bad the service is going to be. Restaurants often add ‘optional’ gratuities automatically – but a lot of people ask for these to be taken off and leave cash instead.
As a rule, Brits are uncomfortable with tipping and we resent the idea of having to pay a worker’s wages. On the other hand, we do want the crew to be paid well, and we don’t mind rewarding outstanding service. Does this make us tight-fisted, or does this just suggest we’re different from Americans, who usually tip generously, whether from guilt or tradition?
Australians are so anti-tipping that when P&O Australia added auto-gratuities to its cruises, there was uproar, and the system had to be scrapped. This doesn’t mean the crew on P&O Australia’s ships aren’t being paid. The tips will simply be built into the fare. The luxury cruise lines already do this, as do Brit-only lines Thomson Cruises, Saga Cruises and Spirit of Adventure.
But if the mainstream cruise lines were either to pay their crew better in the first place or build tips into the overall cruise fare, the basic price of a cruise would go up. Would that make us any happier?