Determining the appropriate tip or gratuity for service providers on board cruise ships can be both confusing and controversial. Due to the influx in cruise passengers unwilling to pay recommended gratuities, some cruise lines like Royal Caribbean are considering making tips mandatory.
“It is an issue,” Royal Caribbean’s UK managing director Robin Shaw says about decreasing tip levels, especially in Britain where cruising is now the most popular vacation choice.
“We are looking at our options. The gratuities are part of the crew’s remuneration package and we need to seek a solution. This could be to include tips in the price of the trip, which would remove the voluntary component, to deal with the shortfall through a company subsidy or to keep things as they are.”
Both Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruise lines currently both charge an automatic 15% gratuity for every drink purchased.
Carnival and Royal Caribbean also both have suggested tip amounts at $10pp/per day and $15.50pp/per day respectively, and both regardless of age. For a family of four on a week-long cruise adds up to $280 on Carnival and $434 on Royal Caribbean.
While the gratuity amounts are currently just guidelines on Royal Caribbean, Carnival goes so far as to automatically charge the recommended gratuities to your sail and sign card (basically an on-board credit card). Carnival allows customers to opt out, but not all customers are aware – since it isn’t clearly stated in their policy.
So what ever happened to the idea of a tip or gratuity being a private manner between a service provider and a guest?
Some say the increase in passengers from countries where tipping is either not-customary or uncommon is to blame for the fees. Others, like the cruise lines, say that employees depend on gratuities as a significant part of their income.
Instead of having automatic gratuity charges, cruise lines need to adjust their pay structure to provide employees with a fair wage that is independent of passenger gratuity. This eliminates the problems with passengers from different countries with different tipping customs, cheap-skate customers, and great variances in employee compensation.
This approach will raise cruise fares, but will also evenly distribute the cost of providing a fair wage to employees, and will avoid the bad taste left in many first-time cruisers mouths after they’re expected to fork over hundreds of dollars at the end of their cruise if they want their assistant room-attendant’s family in Ecuador to eat next week.
Those that say if you can’t afford to tip then you can’t afford to cruise should like this plan, as it will weed out the passengers that can’t afford the service at the booking process.
Cruise employees should also like this policy, since they will get a reasonable living wage, and the truly great service providers (the top third or so) will make even more, since some passengers will still insist on tipping them even though it’s not necessary.
In short, cruise lines should not make gratuities mandatory. Companies are responsible for providing reasonable wages for workers, and if that means higher fares for passengers, so be it. Passing along the operating costs of running a crew in the form of 15% drink surcharges and automatic (and at times unexpected) extra fees above the cruise fare is irresponsible and misleading.
Keep gratuities and tips a reward for great service, and a private matter between the guest and service provider.