Roasted chicken for lunch on the NCL Dawn
A couple of weeks ago, I reported that Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) would begin charging a $7.95 fee for most room service orders, a service that previously had been free. Well, as it turns out, NCL is finding out the hard way that unintended consequences tend to follow when a charge is introduced for something that was previously available at no extra cost.
Those of us that have flown frequently over the past several years know how that works – airlines introduce bag fees, and passengers dream up all sorts of new and creative ways to avoid the charge, namely trying to sneak on extra carry-ons. In NCL’s case, the cruise line had been seeing a substantial bump in the number of guests asking to take food from the buffets or main dining rooms back to their staterooms in a doggie bag. After all, if you’re going to be charged $7.95 to tame the munchies at 11 P.M., why not just head up to the buffet and sneak a plate of shrimp cocktail back to the room, right?
Only there was one problem – crews were reportedly dealing with piles of dishes left by passengers in corridors, so under the guise of addressing a health and safety issue, NCL quickly banned passengers from taking plates of food back to their cabins. Reaction was swift and severe. Cruise Critic, the rough equivalent of FlyerTalk for the cruise crowd, though perhaps not quite as, ummm, spirited, exploded with an occasionally angry thread about the changes. Most cruisers, it seems, believed the ban was little more than a ploy to force passengers facing a snack attack to pay the room service fee.
Ultimately, the vitriol worked, as NCL has now backed off on the ban. Norwegian President Andy Stuart, in an interview with Travel Weekly, insisted that the ban wasn’t about enhancing revenue, but a genuine health and safety issue that just happened to coincide with the introduction of the room service fee. And I have to say, I tend to believe him in this regard. Cruise ships are typically extremely vigilant about guarding against Norovirus outbreaks onboard – after all, there’s not much more embarrassing to a cruise line than news reports of several hundred passengers laid up with Montezuma’s Revenge – and I have to think plates of partially eaten food sitting out in the hallways can’t be a good thing. Not to mention, ships do deal with rough seas. On a cruise to South American in 2012, we encountered especially rough seas for a couple of days, and it was difficult at times to maintain balance while walking down our deck. That wouldn’t have been fun at all with a bunch of plates and utensils to dodge.
That being said, I have to shake my head at the thought that nobody at NCL would have seen this coming. Humans, by nature, will always try to save a buck; that’s especially true when it comes to travel, where passengers have shown they’ll go to great lengths to avoid ancillary fees, especially ones for services that were previously free. You’d think the powers that be at Norwegian would have seen the reaction to airline bag fees, and anticipated that passengers would come up with ways to outsmart the room service fees. As it is, Norwegian plans to address the problem of too many dishes in the corridors by sending the cleaning crew through the decks more frequently to clear trash, something the crew is thrilled about, I’m sure. Let this be a lesson, though, to all you number crunchers out there whose job it is to analyze the impact of proposed fees – it’s never as easy as predicting X amount of revenue from Y customers paying the fee. People WILL find ways to avoid the fee, and the unintended side effects may or may not be worth the revenue.