Outdated onboard gratuity policies complicate cultural inclinations towards tipping.
Much ado came afoot in 2009 when Royal Caribbean protested on the disinclination of British passengers to offer a gratuity at the end of a cruise. The situation escalated when Royal Caribbean officially notified a British cruise conference that "the line may need to rethink their strategy." Stiff upper lips trembled.
One Scotsman, upon hearing he was expected to tip at the end of a cruise, said he would refuse to leave the ship. Another was heard to say "I'd rather paddle my rowboat behind a Royal Caribbean cruise ship for a week, I would save £1,000!" His friend replied, "Why don't you row behind the Queen Mary and saved £2,000?"
Seriously, Royal Caribbean is building its brand admirably with Britain and the European nations. In 2009 CEO Richard Fain predicted the majority of the line's profits would come from non-U.S. passengers within two years time - he has been proven right, almost 60% will come from non-U.S. cruisers in 2012. That is great news for the company in the face of a weakening dollar, but there is just one drawback - that tipping thing.
Americans tip generously - and while that is a good thing, it has created a dependence on the part of Royal Caribbean, and other cruise lines, for a major part of the line's compensation to several crewmember positions onboard.
According to the worldwide tipping guide at Magellan's Travel Source, Americans are arguably the best tippers in the world, to the point where it is very rare for any business to feel the need to include a mandatory service charge on any bill. That is different from the rest of the world where restaurants especially never trust the guest to dig deeper, so they include a service charge on most bills. In Europe a 15% service charge on almost any restaurant bill is de rigueur.
While 15% is a pretty standard service charge in Europe, left to their devices most Europeans will tip less. The Magellan guide says that if a service charge is not included in the bill then the average Brit will leave only 10%. The French and most Western Europeans are likely to leave only 5%.
The Americans are outdone by only one place - the "city-nation" of Macao, the Asian version of Las Vegas, where it is normal to tip 10% in addition to the service charge on the bill. But the point is that mandatory service charges are common outside of America.
Carnival Corp. and its subsidiary cruise lines, plus NCL and other lines have mostly moved to automatically charging tips to the guests' shipboard accounts. This is better than the old system which, frankly, never made any sense. The old system required bringing enough cash to fill the tip envelopes at the end of the cruise, or to procure the cash onboard the ship (at sea) somehow. The ATMs that some ships now have onboard charge an outrageous $5 service fee. Most casinos charge a 3% service charge to get cash from your shipboard account. Then one had to personally stuff the envelopes and hand them out to each of the service people (who then pooled them and redistributed them anyway).
I suppose some guests find this process satisfying, but I find it about as pleasurable as paying taxes.
Royal Caribbean still does not add gratuities to guests' onboard accounts unless the guest specifically asks for it to be done. That requires the passengers' authorization; filling in a form and handing it in to the purser's desk in the middle of the cruise, when end-of-cruise tipping should be the last thing on his mind. If the passenger asks too late (well before the last day of the cruise when the tips are actually paid) he is told he must to go the "cash route" to fill those envelopes. The guests who do opt to include the tips on their shipboard account are still given verification slips to put into envelopes and hand to the servers.
Bottom line - the staff has to get paid. It isn't paying gratuities I object to, it is the old gratuity system that needs to go away. In the "cashless" cruise ship system, asking passengers to cough up cash at the end of a cruise has never made sense. And in Europe, where cruising is just catching on, but tipping has never caught on, if many passengers don't tip it is because the cruise line gives them so many reasons to opt out. We say, "do yourself and the guests a favor and make the tipping process as seamless and invisible as possible."
I often wonder why RCI clings to the 'old' method, and also why even after pre-paying gratuities with the booking or adding them to my account during the cruise requires me to still stuff envelopes with those vouchers and hand them out. Does this mean the tips I pre-paid won't be allocated if I fail to hand the envelopes out? That the cabin attendent has to submit the voucher in order to get the money? Of course not. I think the idea is that many will feel guilty about handing out slips of paper and will want to put some cash in the envelope too. It is just a confused mess.
I much prefer the service charges being automatically charged, and if I feel someone has gone above and beyond I can tip them in cash for a little bonus. Actually, just stopping the service fees altogether and making it part of the cruise price is what everyone needs to do and just stop the silliness. This would have the added benefit of stopping those who like to make up some phony excuse of poor service just to remove the auto-tips on the last day of the cruise - after they have used and likely abused the poor staff all week.
We have all seen the gratuity being added in on bar tabs for quite sometime now, so why not just take the daily fee and add it to the cruise bill each evening as Princess does presently...I remember being on our first Princess cruise two years ago and when I checked my account found a charge coming on late in the evening or early am and was ready to call and find out what was going on when I suddenly realized what it was for..That saved me
and embarassing call to the desk! It does make sense to just make it easy for everyone and I agree with Dave's comments completely.
Frankly, I just wish they'd embed the cost of gratuities into the cruise cost charged up front and be done with it. All inclusive resorts say no tipping, but you know it's really been embedded in the cost you paid up front. This way there would be none of this nonsense of someone removing "all" their gratuities due to "one" crew member that didn't perform up to their unrealistic standards. It's like the hotels adding on their stupid resort fees. It really irks me to see a price for a hotel and then in small print see "A $25 per day resort fee will be collected at check-in." Just embed it in the cost and don't break it down. But resort fees is a whole other topic alone whether hotels should charge them.
I like the way Princess does it as well. They don't call it tips, they call it Service Fee or something like that. It's added to your bill, it's painless, and the only reason you need any cash is for tipping extra if you want.