Saturday, August 11, 2012

Regent Seven Seas vs. Holland America - Really? Let's Talk Ethics.

One of the most read articles I have ever written is Seabourn vs. Silversea vs. Regent - Forget Loyalty; Which Provides the Best Luxury Cruise Experience? .  The reason is obvious:  People want to know what is the difference between the various luxury cruise lines.  (Crystal Cruises now that it is more inclusive and has near open seating now is in the group too.)

But Regent Seven Seas obviously knows when compared to Seabourn and Silversea its cuisine, service and even public areas just don't measure up...so Mark Conroy's shtick remains as it has for years:  He refuses to compare Regent to any luxury line, but rather has a laser beam focus on comparing Regent to Holland America.  But what really bothers me is that he continually says he "hates" to do it...when he really loves to.  (And, by the way, he  revels in doing it in front of the folks from Holland America.)

Just the other day in Travel Market Report Mr. Conroy laid out the same pitch yet again:

I don't like to pick on Holland America, but I will. They have a one-week cruise in Alaska that's nearly identical to a cruise we have. For a 350-square-foot suite with balcony, our price is about $5,049, and their price is $2,499. If the travel agent only mentions the price, they are probably never going to sell us, because the customer has to be asking, ‘Well, it's good, but how is it twice as good? Do they carry me from the dining room back to that suite?’ The travel agent really has to tell the story – that you are one of few passengers versus one of many.

And in the case of Regent, we include the air, the hotel night, all the beverages. There are no gratuities charged, and we include the shore excursions. Add those back into the fare on the Holland America ship and instead of being twice as much we'll either be comparably priced or only a few dollars a day more. That's why travel agents are so critical to us, because if the story doesn't get told the consumer doesn't buy the product.


Well, I am a travel agent...a well-respected and experiences luxury travel agent...and I don't tell a "story" but give my clients (and my readers) the true facts.  So....

Let's take a fresh look at Regent's "story", using real examples, and see how it scales on the Pinocchio meter.

A Preface...and an important one:  Holland America (and Seabourn) were named to the 2012 World's Most Ethical Companies List.  Regent Seven Seas Cruises was not...and you will now see why.  Alas, it is your choice to do business with Regent Seven Seas if you so desire.  I will sell you one of their cruises if you insist, but first read on.

I randomly picked a Holland America cruise that I have a client sailing on.  As I write this article I have not done the math and I promise, however it comes out, you will see the entire analysis and if I need to eat my words I will...But I am very confident I won't have to.

My client is sailing on the Holland America Prinsendam (835 guests) in an SY Suite on a 12 night European cruise from Amsterdam to Barcelona.  The suite is approximately 380 square feet with the veranda, a bathtub with shower, large flat screen TV, fresh flowers, etc.


The retail price is $7,668.76 total for two people including all fees and taxes, but not insurance or air.  Gratuities are $12.00 per day per person, or an additional $288.00.  While you can bring wine and champagne onboard, let's forget that option and just estimate $50 per day per person for all beverages, or $1,200.00.  Let's add to that $200 for specialty dining ($25 per person x 4 nights).  That brings our total up to $9,556.76 for the entire cruise...except for tours, transfers, hotel and airfare. 

(I think it is critical to break out each product separately because if your travel agent decides to actually earn his/her commission she/he will do the same so that you receive the best value...rather than being lazy and telling you that Regent provides everything so they put in no effort and you pay more.)

Having said that, I can find nonstop air out of New York for less than $1,000 per person, so we will add $2,000 to the total.  I can put you in an all-inclusive hotel right in the center of Amsterdam (full booked breakfast, stocked complimentary bar in your room, free internet, 24 hours snacks, etc.) for $300 per night. Let me now add private transfers to the hotel, to the ship and also back to the airport:  $450.00.  So the air and hotel portion brings us to $2,750 and our overall total is now $12,306.76.

So, forgetting about tours, the total cost in a Suite on Holland America with airfare, hotel, gratuities, beverages and speciality dining, is $12,306.76 total for two people (or $6,153.38 per person).

On September 16, 2012 Regent Seven Seas has a remarkably similar 14 day cruise from London to Barcelona on the Seven Seas Voyager (700 guests).  The cost for the lowest category Suite (Category H) is $20,098.00 (or $10,049.00 per person)...with bus transfers.  (But to be totally fair, we need to adjust the prices because the Regent Seven Seas cruise is 14 days and the Holland America cruise is 12 days.  Pro-rating the Regent Seven Seas cruise brings that price to a comparable $17,226.86 for 12 days.)


So now I am struggling with how I, as an experienced, honest and hardworking travel agent can advise my clients that it is about the same cost to sail on a Regent Seven Seas cruise as it is a Holland America cruise.  It will cost my clients an additional $4,920.10...40% more....to sail on Regent than Holland America for an almost identical cruise...with the pro-rata pricing and a whopping $7,791.24 if simply budgeting for relatively comparable holidays!

How can we make sense of this? 

Where does Mr. Conroy's fuzzy math come from? 

Am I nuts?  No! 

Let me try to show you the smoke and mirrors:  The allegedly "free" TOURS!  There are twelve days that you can conceivably take tours.  Those tours are comparable to the lower end tours that Holland America also offers (and probably using the same operators with the same buses and the same tour guides...because if you want a high quality tour on Regent you are going to pay for it!).  Regent will tell you that the value of each tour is a bloated $150 per person x 2 people x 12 port days = $3,600.00. Ooops. Sorry.  My mistake.  HAL is still $1,300 less expensive on a pro-rata basis and $4,171.14 on a holiday basis even assuming each couple takes a bus tour every day for a bloated $300 a day. 

And, by the way, a good travel agent will tell you where NOT to take a ship's tour (because they are really worthless or unnecessary) and where to take a private tour that will cost you even less. So when you add this in with the fact that most people actually like to relax and do not feel the need or want to take tours in every port, Regent's claim of the value of the "free" tours (it now being obvious you are dearly paying for them!) is just fraudulent.

I can assure you that I have done this calculation many times and I have never come out to a situation where Regent is even close to Holland America's pricing...especially when you take out the Smoke and Mirrors of the bloated and low quality tours.

So where is Mr. Conroy's omnipresent assertion on the Pinocchio scale?

 It is, alas, about Ethics.  The ethics of your cruise line and, of course, your travel agent.

Join the discussion on The Gold Standard Luxury Cruise Forum.

Call Goldring Travel at (877) 2GO-LUXURY or + 1 732-578-8585 or email me at eric@goldringtravel.com.