Tom Stieghorst
Tom Stieghorst

Witnesses in court swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Fortunately, corporate executives are held to a far more lenient standard when talking to investors and Wall Street analysts.

To cite just one example, consider the comment by Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. chairman and CEO Richard Fain when asked if weakness at a cruise competitor would affect pricing in the Caribbean and elsewhere.

Fain answered with a familiar truism that his cruise line's competition comes from all kinds of tourism products, even from consumer electronics, that fight for a piece of a household's discretionary income.

"We really that think a -- much more competitive force is coming from elsewhere in the industry; that is from tourism, from land tourism and, ultimately, from things like flat-screen TVs," Fain said.

OK, that's the truth. But is it the whole truth?

It was a fresh point when it was first made years ago. It opened the minds of the investment community, travel advisors, the media and others to a broader perspective about how cruise executives think when making strategic decisions. And Fain is by no means the only cruise CEO to make the point. The heads of other publicly traded cruise lines say the same thing.

But has this valid point become an evasion, a platitude to hide behind when executives don't want to acknowledge that cruise lines do in fact compete with each other on price, at least in some circumstances?

If Fred of Fred's Friendly Used Cars says he doesn't compete with Dave's Devine Used Rides down the block but instead competes with the local vendor of 62-inch color TVs, or for that matter with cruise lines, should that be the end of it?

Or would it be more useful to talk about the sway that Dave's recent financial troubles might have on the price of a late-model Ford?

Of course, Fred doesn't want to suggest to his bankers that Ford pickup prices might decline in the next quarter. It is much easier to say that his truck prices are independent of how the guy down the street prices his trucks.

I think Fain missed an opportunity to more directly address a question that is concerning to investors, and perhaps to travel advisors too. Analyst Felicia Hendrix asked the question about prices because she said it's on investors' minds.

"The narrative out there is that with perhaps a brand or a company that's kind of facing some challenges, to alleviate those [challenges] they may drop prices, particularly in the Caribbean, and that might affect your brand," Hendrix said.

Royal Caribbean International brand president Michael Bayley also took a crack at the question and maybe came closer to the whole truth.

"I think there's a certain amount of value seekers who will go after a lower price, but there's probably 80% of the customers are seeking a specific product," Bayley said. "And we found they're willing to pay a higher price for the kind of experience and the almost guarantee of satisfaction for them and their families. So there is a difference between the brands and the products in the marketplace. And I think for informed and educated customers, they realize that.

"So, it's true that sometimes lower pricing can be temporarily disruptive, but it passes fairly quickly," Bayley said.


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