Towards the tipping point at a rate of knots
BY the time an American cruise ship arrives here, whether for a whole season or just a couple of days in port, it has usually been ‘‘Aussified’’ with Australian wines, local draught beers and, of course, Vegemite and HP Sauce. And there’s often better coffee on board.
The other big hurdle for American-owned cruise lines such as Royal Caribbean is how to handle tipping. Americans are big tippers, Australians are not. Royal Caribbean (Australia) boss Gavin Smith offers a pre-paid tipping system, making it easier for Australian passengers to contribute. ‘‘With alternate dining, the fact that you are at different restaurants, at different times, means you rarely see the same waiter. [Our] pre-paid tipping system evolved from that,’’ Smith says.
However, he concedes a small number of Australian passengers opt out of the pre-paid option, preferring to pay cash to reward staff at their own discretion.
‘‘Hopefully, [the pre-paid system] protects service, as it takes away from the embarrassment of giving cash at the end of the cruise.’’
The luxury Italian-owned cruise company Silversea has operated an all-inclusive policy on tipping since its inaugural cruise in 1994 and this eliminates the embarrassment created when some guests want to tip the waiter $10 and others proffer more than $100 at the end of each meal.
‘‘I think people book with us because they like the allinclusive value concept,’’ says Silversea’s Australian boss, Karen Christensen. ‘‘They know what they are getting for their money and there are no hidden surprises.
‘‘There is nothing nicer than to not be handling money or signing tabs . . . there’s not this question of who should pay . . . it makes for a nice environment when you are making new friends.’’
Phil Asker, founder of The Captain’s Choice Tour, a luxury tour operator providing cruise, coach and air itineraries, also operates an all-inclusive policy on gratuities. ‘‘The main thing is that the passenger does not have to think about tipping,’’ Asker says.
This all-inclusive policy works in Asker’s favour because the company uses a lot of local guides. ‘‘Generally, Australian groups can end up with the worst guides because Australians are not big tippers. Guides want the American groups because they tip. The best guides in the world want to make money, and they know they will make money out of an American.’’
So how much does The Captain’s Choice tip? ‘‘We vary it. On meals, we will normally tip 10 per cent. In the US, we normally tip 20 per cent . . . [but] if we get lousy service we will let them know why [and] obviously [give] a different amount.’’