Value and service. For the traveler, this can be an elusive combination. For the vendor, is the goal to pad your margins or to grow customer relations? The answer for many is to pilfer their customers. Value and relationships be damned.

When choosing a hotel, like many, I look for “free Wi-Fi”; in fact it is prerequisite for me. Too many times to count, the Wi-Fi does not work. A refrain from the hotel staff during a recent stay: “don’t worry, the Wi-Fi is complimentary so if it is not working, it is not a problem.” Well, it is a problem for me.   I chose your hotel based on the fact that you offer complimentary Wi-Fi. “Complimentary” Wi-Fi that does not work is a breaking of the contract. The customer pays you the stated rate, and the hotel should provide the services they articulated.

At this time, I will provide a comparison at the high-end of travel, $2000 per day per couple. At this price point, you would consider these trips “once in a life time” opportunities. This case study will include a Hurtigruten cruise to Svalbard, Greenland, & Iceland; and a Celebrity X cruise to the Galapagos Islands. Both cruises are in remote and protected lands.

The locations being equally exotic and alluring could not result in more disparate results. Hurtigruten should strongly consider replacing its entire management team or selling itself to a competitor based upon the unbelievably poor value proposition provided to the customer. Celebrity X on the other hand should serve as a case study in excellence for the Harvard Business School.


Hurtigruten’s MS Fram in Greenland

Galapagos Islands

Some seals viewing Celebrity X

Again, considering that the customer is spending $2000 per day, I have never witnessed so much nickel and diming. The Hurtigruten ambience was similar to a 4000 person, booze-cruise in the Caribbean: low rent. For Hurtigruten, everything that was not nailed down to the ship was a potential revenue stream. If you wanted to use the Jacuzzi and needed a robe; no problem. Hurtigruten was willing to rent you a robe. If you wanted some peanuts with that beer you just purchased; no problem. Three dollars will get you a bag of peanuts. Need to do a wet landing on Greenland; no problem.   Hurtigruten will rent you rubber boots for the actual price that you could have purchased them. Maybe the cold weather is making your nose run; no problem. Hurtigruten can sell you some tissues since it is not included in your room. And good news, the ship sells internet services as well, at only $11 per hour; no problem. Don’t worry, most of the time it doesn’t work. But who doesn’t mind spending 60 minutes to send 5 emails. Thirsty at lunch? Again, no problem. Hurtigruten has a solution: a water package that you can purchase.

The coast of Greenland

The coast of Greenland


Let’s see … how else can Hurtigruten drive revenue? A light bulb pops up above my head! For entertainment, Hurtigruten can hold a fashion show with the staff showcasing clothing from the on-ship gift store that is accompanied with 100% mark-ups. Or, we can charge the customer $100 to go on a “hike”. Or they can set up an “excursion” to a fish factory for $104.

After going on two extremely lackluster “excursions”, I wanted to cancel a future tour. Not wanting to complain, I lied to the staff explaining that I had sprained my ankle.   No problem, she smiled! Just visit the on-ship doctor for $40 and he will provide you with a letter so we can refund your money.

Our Polar Circle boat returned to the Hurtigruten MS Fram after a cold and rainy landing on Greenland. Eight chilled passengers returned to the boat. One of the many Pilipino staff welcomed us aboard. “Baileys or whiskey?” I smiled, a nice touch I thought. I thought a Baileys and coffee would hit the spot. Then I noticed the prices; this wasn’t a thoughtful gesture on part of Hurtigruten. It was simply another revenue stream to plunder its captive passengers.  (I noticed after the trip, I only had one picture of a crew member from Hurtigruten. In contrast, I had a dozen shots of the crew from Celebrity X. Hurtigruten’s attitude colored the relationship of the crew and passengers.)

Time to charge some more money!

Time to charge some more money!

My mind flashed back to a year earlier. “Here, sir, your Baileys and coffee,” Cristian grinned and slid me my drink. I was in the Galapagos Islands and just returned to the ship after an amazing snorkel adventure with giant sea turtles and seals.   Sopping wet, I was returning to my cabin as Fernando from behind the bar proactively poured my drink of choice. Complimentary. In fact, everything was included on the cruise with Celebrity X. Beer, wine, top-shelf liquor, internet, wetsuits, and snorkel & fins. Even a complimentary DVD with photos of the cruise. (A perfect contrast would be the show put on by the crew of Celebrity compared to Hurtigruten. The Celebrity crew put on a talent show, while Hurtigruten was selling clothes.) Everything that Hurtigruten schemed to bill you, Celebrity was determined to take the opposite track.   Celebrity X was on intent on providing an unbelievable value and an incredible experience.

seal galapagos

galapagos islands

Celebrity X is Superman while Hurtigruten is Bizzaro Superman. Both cruise lines occupied the same place in parallel universes. Celebrity made their customers feel like … a celebrity. They made me feel valued and appreciated. There was a great, positive energy on the boat, not like the snickering and griping on Hurtigruten. Hurtigruten guests speculated what nefarious mechanism Hurtigruten would conjure up to charge their customers.

The incredible staff on the Celebrity X

The incredible staff on the Celebrity X

Celebrity charmed and twinkled during their entire week. Celebrity created a “raving fan”. On the Hurtigruten cruise I was quick to volunteer to the other passengers my superlative experience with Celebrity.   Celebrity was not concerned about creating new lines of revenue from me during my cruise. They were focused on providing a powerful and positive experience with a future repeat customer.

So airlines, hotels, tour guides, cruises; you have a choice. Create value, honor your word, and deliver. The vast globe has grown a lot smaller with everything from Tripadvisor to Twitter to Facebook. Create positive experiences and build long term relationships. You will be rewarded.

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