Thursday, July 1, 2010

Silversea Cruises - When Charity Becomes a Cheap Marketing Ploy.

Recently I have tried to not say anything negative about Silversea Cruises, but it just keeps giving me reasons to warn people off.  The latest fiasco is, to my mind, absolutely inexcusable.

Silversea is now making an automatic charge to each guest's onboard account to pay money to the Maruzza Lefebvre D’Ovidio Foundation under the guise that it is a "charitable donation" that may be opted out of if you go to the Reception Desk, once onboard, and advise them you do not want to make the "donation".

I pause and note:  THIS IS NOT A CHARITABLE DONATION.  It is a dishonest way to funnel money to a technically non-profit organization which is headed by the wife of Silversea Cruises chairman...and which, when you click on the Financial Information link it simply states, "Work in Progress". 

I cannot pass judgment on what the organization does or doesn't do.  I have honestly tried to figure out what it has accomplished versus what it's plans are and it is very difficult to figure out.  While it seems it does some positive work, it also seems focused on talking, workshops, round tables, book publication, etc.  In other words, stuff that doesn't really help the people with the illnesses...and, it would seem, probably  with high overhead.  Who knows? 

And, by the way, if you are American your "donation" is not tax deductible because the Foundation has not been qualified as a charity under United States law.  Whether that is simply because it is an Italian entity or it cannot qualify I do not know.  And I cannot tell you if it is of any tax benefit if you are British, Dutch, or even Italian.

Which, alas, raises another point:  Why would you want to donate to an Italian charity rather than a charity in a port you are actually visiting or your home country?  Does the fact you are walking on an Italian owned ship mean anything to you?  I mean the ships are registered in the Bahamas, so why isn't the charity based there.  (Heck, you are technically subject to Bahamian law when you are onboard!)

I also note that there is a very successful charity which many cruiselines promote or assist and you probably know it as the Walk for the Cure.    It is actually Susan G. Komen for the Cure and you get information when you click on the link for, say, Carnival Cruise Lines...not a link to the cruiseline's website (which is what happens when you click on the Silversea link on the  Foundation's site.  When you board you are given information about donating and it is done in a very low pressure, low key, manner. (Nobody will know if you donate or not...unless you want to let people know.)

Compare that to Silversea which puts you in the position of (a) taking the Walk of Shame - I mean who wants anyone to perceive them as uncharitable or cheap; and (b) having to take time out of your cruise to visit Reception to not do something you never wanted to do in the first place. 

Now, with all that said, I have to ask what marketing genius came up with this ploy?  All that Silversea needed to do was say, "Silversea is proud to announce that it will donate US$1.00 for every day a passenger sails on one of its ships.  We hope you feel pride in knowing a small portion of your cruise fare is going to be used for a wonderful purpose."

The reason, to my mind, is simple:  Silversea is in financial distress and it needs every one of those dollars.  I don't know if this new stunt is a way for Silversea to reach into your pocket to save a floundering foundation owned by a relative or what?  But why should any of us have to worry about such things.  I, most cetainly, don't need to further reseach a foundation to see if my client's should be concerned about where their cruise dollars are going.

In the end, it is just another way that Silversea is cheapening its product and making me concerned that what you saw yesterday is not what you will receive today...and most unfortunately probably is not near what you will receive in a year from now

But, heck, feel good because you are paying extra for dinner in one of the specialty restaurants and now for the chairman's wife's foundation. Yuck.