Cruise Ship Causes Brain Pain?

We always think of cruising as painless… but a post at Neuromarketing, titled Princess Puts Pain into Cruising, suggests that a lot of “nickel and dime” charges on cruise ships (in this case, the Crown Princess) may actually light up the brain’s pain center.

One of the kinds of pain we talk about here at Neuromarketing is the “pain of paying” or “buying pain” – brain scans show that shelling out cash can activate the pain centers in the brain. (See The Pain of Buying.) Cruising generally excels at minimizing this kind of pain, too – once the cruise has been paid for (often many months before the actual cruise), almost everything is included. Elegant dinners, sumptuous buffets, Broadway-style entertainment, and much more is “free” on board the ship. For customers who feel the pain of paying more acutely than others, cruising is about as pain-free as you can get. Want more lobster? It’s free. Care to watch a recently-released movie after the performance by a concert pianist, and then hang out at the disco until dawn? It’s all free. Cruise lines further minimize paying pain by ensuring that their passengers pay for nothing with cash – one’s “cruise card” is a combination room key and shipboard credit card that one can use to buy anything on the ship. (In almost every case, an automatic service charge obviates the need to calculate a tip or even look at the amount one signed for – a great way to further minimize buying pain.)

… The Crown Princess, though, seemed to be packed with opportunities to spend a little extra. Brewed coffee, free in most areas of the ship, cost $1 in the coffee shop. And while many food items in the International Café were free, a couple of scoops of gelato would set you back all of $1.50. Tapas were available in the evening for an additional charge. Orange juice was free at breakfast, but ordering fresh-squeezed juice in another venue cost $2.75. If you wanted to spend four hours in a relaxing pool area called the Sanctuary, your cruise card would be billed $10. To eat at the Crown Grill steakhouse, a specialty dining venue, a $25 charge applied. And, if you were audacious enough to order lobster, a further $9 fee would be assessed.

The post concludes that constantly charging cruisers for items that might normally be included in the cruise price has an impact beyond the minimal value of these charges. Even though most of the cruise passengers spend many thousands of dollars per year on travel and would hardly miss the extra dollar or two, by assessing these small charges Princess ratchets up their “buying pain.”

The Neuromarketing post suggests that a very small increase in the total cruise price and elimination of most of the tiny charges would be preferable from a customer satisfaction standpoint. I tend to agree. I found that well-traveled passengers – some with twenty or more past cruises – kept talking about being nickel-and-dimed. These passengers could clearly afford the few dollars involved, but were still irritated by the charges. Let’s hope we see a reversal of this trend and a return to “all-inclusive” cruise prices.

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