As a recent incident onboard a Royal Caribbean International cruise from Shanghai, China, illustrated, Chinese cruise passengers are an entirely different species from North Americans or Europeans. Because of a looming typhoon, the decision was taken by RCI to reroute the cruise from three calls in Japan to three calls in South Korea.
Not placated by RCI’s compensation of free lobster dinners and complimentary Wi-Fi, some 300 guests refused to leave Quantum of the Seas after it returned to Shanghai, delaying embarkation of the next batch of cruisers. Finally, there were physically removed from the ship.
This was not the first time.
In April 300 passengers refused to disembark the Chinese liner Henna until they received the equivalent of $32 in compensation for weather-related missed ports and destination substitutions. In 2013 travel agency CTrip compensated 2,000 passengers $82 apiece for a Costa Cruises voyage that missed a call at Jeju Island, South Korea, due to fog and rough seas. Passengers on another Costa cruise went on strike when their ship missed a call in Vietnam because a ship had sunk in the channel, rendering it impassable.
It’s hard to imagine a similar scene unfolding at PortMiami or Port Everglades.
I was on a Mexican Riviera cruise once that missed a scheduled call at Cabo San Lucas. A group of about a dozen angry passengers gathered in the lobby and started making noise about petitioning the captain to demand compensation. The group dissolved when a travel agent on the cruise suggested they read the fine print on their cruise documents that indemnifies the cruise line from compensating guests when a port call is missed for virtually any reason.
What I gathered from the article in An Fang on the recent Shanghai cruise was that similar clauses are not included in the contracts of the tour operators and travel agencies that sell cruises in China for Western cruise lines — the contract is not between the cruise line and the guest, but between the guest and the travel seller.
Until those Chinese cruise contracts are as ironclad as the Western cruise lines’ contracts, cruise companies operating in China will be at the mercy of bands of disgruntled passengers who are prepared to strike until they receive sufficient compensation.
While the Chinese cruise market seemingly holds great promise as a source market, it also holds perils rooted in differences in culture, mores and expectations.