Friday, June 17, 2011

Avid Cruiser - Goes "All In" On Marketing; Not Critiquing - But Doesn't Fully Disclose His Apparent Conflict With The Cruising Consumer

Yesterday Ralph Grizzle, the Avid Cruiser, announced to the industry that he has been hired by Royal Caribbean to create 10 minute videos on all of its various ports and, to be sure, it is speculated that those videos may well trickle over to RCCL's sister companies:  Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises. But...consistent with his prior actions, that information is not on his website and is not on his blog.  It is, in fact, nowhere to be easily found by the consumer.

Why is that important?  If the consumer does not have confidence in the cruise information being provided to it by supposedly unbiased sources or by his/her travel agent, then the entire cruise industry suffers. That is not something I wish to let happen.

For some background, a while back I was very critical of Ralph Grizzle, the Avid Cruiser, because he failed to disclose that he was being paid by Silversea Cruises to provide a supposed critique of its new ship, the Silversea Silver Spirit, and that he then followed on with a rather curious (and I believed skewed) "review" of the Seabourn Odyssey. See my January 2010 article:  Avid Cruiser - After Reading the Posts on the Seabourn Odyssey Should Be Renamed Avid Loser - Seriously, What Gives?

But then he began disclosing...if you looked very carefully...that he was, in part, being paid by certain cruise lines to provide his reviews and videos.  That did not, however, result in any asterisks being put on his work (past or present) that he was essentially a "hired gun (copywriter)".  How did he do this? I guess as a result, in whole or in part, of my criticisms - he added a new "Full Disclosure" page...which you can only find if you scroll to the bottom of his home page

Unfortunately, it is clearly, and I personally believe intentionally, not a "full" disclosure at all, but rather a non-disclosure other than the fact that he cruises for free, is treated like a VIP and, "Cruise lines, destinations and travel agents do support Avid Cruiser, primarily through project-based fees. Cruise lines and destinations, for example, hire me [the Avid Cruiser] to produce videos or other projects." What is missing is which cruise lines pay him.  That would, obviously, result in "full" disclosure. 

Instead of providing that "full" disclosure, Ralph Grizzle he added to his website a new - easily found - page assuring he is not biased: "Cruise Reviews You Can Trust" along with another page "Trustworthy & Helpful Cruise Reviews" with a section captioned, "The Avid Cruiser’s Mission: To Help People Make Informed Decisions". Gee, I would have thought that "Full Disclosure" page would have been right up there...front and center...with those pages flaunting his integrity...which were put, well, front and center.  But it isn't. 

Why?  To me the answer is obvious.  The Avid Cruiser's Mission is not to help people make informed decisions.  His mission is to sell his copy and videos.  And if his copy is thought to be biased or paid for maybe, just maybe, those travel agents paying for his content might not pay for it.  WAIT A MINUTE:  That's it!  Travel agents that do not have the expertise, want to present Ralph Grizzle's copy to their clients make them seem more experienced.  Now, if those travel agents are pushing biased reviews...or reviews that are not disclosed to be paid for by the cruise lines or destinations either directly or indirectly...that would seem to be rather unfriendly to the consumer and, possibly, deceptive.

To be sure, I am not in competition with Ralph Grizzle. He is a paid for supplier of video and copy and I am a travel agent. I provide my opinions, which may or may not line up with his, for a different purpose. And, without question, everyone knows that I try to be objective - possibly to a fault - but that in the end, my mission is to sell more cruises because the more cruises I sell, the more money I make...and I sell lots of Seabourn cruises (and a good bit of other luxury lines too; like Crystal Cruises).  Folks, that is "Full Disclosure".
So if you were to read the Avid Cruiser's "reviews" on his or a subscribing travel agent's website:


- Would you wonder if his glowing review of the pretty much universally agreed to be less than stellar (but still nice) Silversea Silver Spirit was biased?  He claims not, but wouldn't it possibly sway you - the consumer - if you knew he was paid to make videos for Silversea while he was writing it? 

- Would it not be relevant when you - the consumer - read his review of the Seabourn Odyssey shortly thereafter...with his nitpicky comments taking up as much on the page as his other comments?  By the way:  Did you know that shortly thereafter Seabourn hired Ralph Grizzle/Avid Cruiser to do some promotional videos for it and his present comments about the Seabourn Odyssey/Sojourn are nicer and reside on his home page?  Coincidence I think not.



- Wouldn't it be relevant if you read his Royal Caribbean reviews if you were told, upfront, that he was paid by Royal Caribbean?

Why am a I so disturbed by Ralph Grizzle, the Avid Cruiser's, conduct?  Because it undercuts all of us in the business that try to provide actual critical analysis and discussion of the cruise industry.

More importantly, it plays the cruising consumer for a fool. The most unfortunate part is that the seemingly duped cruising consumers are the ones actively seeking out accurate information.  As I said at the outset, if the consumer does not have confidence in the information being provided to it by supposedly unbiased sources or by his/her travel agent, then the entire industry suffers.

It is, to me, a shame because the Avid Cruiser does provide quite a bit of good information and videos... and I have even referred to some here.