Carnival to offer 'best price guarantee' on shore excursions

By Tom Stieghorst
Carnival Cruise Lines has launched a price guarantee designed to counter the perception that its shore excursions are more expensive than independent, third-party products.

Carnival's "best price guarantee" is being touted as the only one of its kind in the industry.

Under the program, guests who find the same tour offered by another operator at a lower price than their booked excursion can receive a shipboard credit equal to 110% of the difference between the two prices.

Claims can be filed either before the cruise begins or while onboard. Carnival said it would make a decision about each claim within 48 hours.

To qualify, the tours must have the same duration and features as the Carnival tour and occur on the same day. Also, they must be advertised with pricing, be publicly available and be reserved before the start of the cruise.

Mico Cascais, vice president of tour operations for Carnival Cruise Lines, said the line was not going to have to cut prices or drop any tours in order to meet the promise implied in the guarantee.

"On an at least annual basis, we do an exhaustive audit of our pricing, so we change pricing to stay competitive all along," Cascais said. "We're not going to reduce pricing so it suits the best pricing guarantee."

He said the reason Carnival came up with the guarantee, which it has been working on for several months, was to assure passengers that they can go with the option provided by the cruise line.

"We're so confident we have a great value, particularly on similar excursions with similar inclusions, that we feel very good about this offer," he said. "We want to clear up this perception, particularly with new cruisers, that we're expensive compared to what's out there."

Cascais noted that by buying excursions in-house, cruisers have the advantage of refunds in case a ship has to skip a port of call, or a ship's departure time can be adjusted if a tour is running late.

But Barry Karp, co-owner of Shoretrips.com, which specializes in packaging commissioned excursions for travel agents to sell, said that passengers rarely if ever miss a ship's departure as a result of buying an independent excursion.

"They've always brought up those scare tactics," Karp said of the cruise lines. "Apparently its not working as well as it used to."

Although Carnival's guarantee could mean fewer shore excursions for agents to sell, Karp said he thought it would primarily affect operators who market direct to consumers on the Internet.

Karp's wife, Julie, who co-owns the business, said that in practical terms the price difference between Carnival and independent excursions, at least in the Caribbean, was not that great, so the onboard credit would likely be too small for many passengers to bother making a claim.

"If you have a party of 10, it might pay," she said.

Another catch is that cruise lines are increasingly providing add-ons that bundle two or three activities with a main excursion, making for fewer identical excursions that would meet Carnival's criteria.

In all, Carnival offers about 1,100 excursions, Cascais said.

He acknowledged that Carnival makes a profit on the excursions but said that because it buys in such bulk, it can keep prices competitive and still make money.

"We're able to buy in great quantities and to pass along those savings," he said.
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