All at sea over cruise pric­ing strate­gies

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Australia -

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.

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