The news that, as of Monday, you'll be able to book shore excursions without visiting the shore excursions desk on your cruise ship or visiting "Juan Valdez" and his agents on the pier could have far-reaching implications.
A company called Viator launched its website yesterday, for bookings starting six days later. It's for any major cruise line, any ship, almost any place (there are 80 ports). It's not the first company to venture into these waters, but it seems to be the most ambitious…or at least the latest.
If Viator (and others like GroupShoreExcursions.com and ShoreTrips.com) are successful, it's going to force cruise lines to be competitive in what many believe is the high cost of shore excursions. That is, if they haven't already done so and if they have, the consumer still wins.
This new company claims to shave as much as 60 per cent off the going, monopolistic rate…with little competition, only Juan and his amigos, cruise lines are quick to warn you that the ship won't wait if you're late getting back from a shore excursion not operated by the cruise line.
While this is true, have you been on a ship where departure was delayed…and where you saw passengers scurrying across the dock to the gangplank? We have, more than once, and since there were only four of five of them, we assumed these were not cruise-line shore excursions.
Cruise people don't want to leave passengers behind, just to make a point, although now that they're in a fight for the shore excursion dollar, tactics may change. Similarly, their competitors on the shore don't want unhappy customers, either. In both cases…bad for business.
We've taken a few trips on shore outside the comfort of the "we could leave without you" promise and (touch wood) never missed the ship. The closest we came was in France, after renting a car and getting lost, and the rental-car rep jumped in and drove us to the pier in, well, French style. And besides, most passengers going "on their own" allow plenty of time to return.
If you feel threatened by missing the boat, Viator promises…no, guarantees…that Viator will get you to the ship at the next port, at Viator's expense. At least one of its competitors (Group Shore Excursions) makes the same promise. Considering the magnitude of these businesses, they'll probably be more than capable of fulfilling the guarantee for the few times it may be necessary.
Unless everybody's scared.
Then, these customer-friendly businesses will simply be dead in the water.
And don't worry too much about Juan and his amigos. They'll probably wind up doing what they do for the new companies.