All at sea over cruise pricing strategies
WHYdo Australians pay so much more for some cruises than other nationalities? Cairns real estate agent Linda Tuck says she was quoted $1900 a person for a 14-day cruise from Sydney to Auckland by a local travel agency while a US-based online site quoted her just $1100 a person for the same itinerary.
‘‘It’s anti-competitive behaviour to not allow Australians to book online with the agent of their choice,’’ Tuck reckons.
So she warned the cruise line that she would alert the media and the competition watchdog to the discrepancy. The cruise line dropped its price.
Australian Federation of Travel Agents managing director Jayson Westbury says inconsistent cruise pricing has dogged the industry for years. ‘‘It’s basically because of the way cruise companies [determine their] prices. If anyone is to be taken to task, it’s the cruise lines. Travel agents want to be seen to be giving their clients the best possible price,’’ Westbury explains.
So we asked a spokesperson for one of the most popular US travel sites, a specialist in selling discounted voyages, why Australians can’t enjoy cheaper cruises. The representative, who asked that the agency not be named, also blames the global sales policy of each cruise line for the anomalies, claiming that the pricing disparities have nothing to do with international law or US government regulations. ‘‘Rather, it is a corporate policy instituted by each of these companies. We are very disappointed in the restrictions these cruise lines have placed on US travel agencies.’’
In Sydney, Royal Caribbean (Australia) managing director Gavin Smith reckons the disparities in cruise pricing can be likened to the cost of Evian mineral water. ‘‘It is manufactured in France, but it is priced differently around the world.’’ Smith says the general rule of thumb is that those in the community living closest to the departure port for the cruise itinerary pay the lowest price because they can travel with a shorter lead time.
‘‘A Voyager of the Seas cruise [out of Australia] is cheaper for an Australian than for an American because we are trying to drive volume locally, [so] we adjust the price.
‘‘It is not a deliberate intent by the cruise lines to price differentially between markets.
‘‘We don’t encourage Australians to book through non-Australian websites . . . if you book through a foreign travel agent, you don’t enjoy the [same] consumer protection,’’ he concludes.
So what of Tuck and the cruise she took out of Sydney last December?
‘‘It was fantastic,’’ she says.