Why you're seeing more all-inclusive fares for Holland America cruises
If you've priced a Holland America cruise in recent weeks, you might have noticed something different. The storied line has added new fares to its reservation system that bundle together lots of "extras" like drinks and WiFi access that normally come with an additional charge.
The new "Have It All" fares, as the line is calling them, include a bunch of things that Holland America customers have found bundled into fares in the past as part of short-term promotions. But the twist here is that this is no short-term promotion. It's a permanent change.
Gus Antorcha, the new president of Holland America, tells TPG that Have It All fares are here to stay -- one of the first big changes that he's made at the line since taking the helm in July.
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"We've been looking at our business since I joined. I think most companies have used the last year [with the industry shut down] to look a little harder at how they do business," Antorcha said Monday in an exclusive interview with TPG. "This was the big change we wanted to make."
Speaking with TPG on a video call, Antorcha said the new fare structure was designed after extensive consultation with members of Holland America's loyalty program, the Mariner Society, as well as travel agents who sell Holland America voyages.
He said the Have It All fares include the four things that Mariner Society members said they most wanted to be included in rates: Unlimited drinks, onboard WiFi, dining in an onboard specialty restaurant and at least one and sometimes several free shore excursions.
"Shore excursions [included in the fare] by far was the most desired feature, which intuitively makes sense to me," Antorcha said, noting that the line's tour program long has been a top allure for bookers. "Holland's a brand that's always differentiated itself around itineraries and deployment."
Holland America is following rival Celebrity Cruises in moving to a more all-inclusive fare structure. Celebrity late last year unveiled a new Always Included rate structure that included unlimited drinks, WiFi and gratuities in all fares.
In one of several notable differences between the new Holland America and Celebrity fares, Holland America isn't completely switching to the new all-inclusive format.
Holland America still will offer base fares that don't include all the extras. The Have It All fares are an alternative choice that are priced higher than the base fares but significantly less than it would cost to buy all of the things in the bundle individually.
The added inclusions in the new Have It All Fares would cost about $99 per person, per day for a passenger to buy individually on a typical seven-night cruise. But the extra cost that passengers pay by choosing a Have It All fare is only about half that much, the line says.
"The research we did would suggest the vast majority of the guests would be interested in this [more all-inclusive] product offering," Antorcha said. But, "we felt it was important to have choice ... different guests will make the determination if it makes sense for them or not, based on what they plan on doing" on their cruise.
One extra-charge item that isn't included in Holland America's new Have It All fares is gratuities for staff. That's a key difference as compared to the new Always Included fares at Celebrity, which include gratuities for staff.
Holland America adds a "daily service charge" of $14.50 per person, per day to passenger bills for most rooms. Passengers staying in suites pay a $16 per person, per day service charge. Passengers still will have to pay those charges even when booking Have It All fares.
Antorcha said the Mariner Society members that the line surveyed weren't as keen on having gratuities included in the Have It All fares as they were for the other extra-charge items.
"It did not score highly. It was below WiFi," Antorcha said. "If we're going to add something to the package, it's got to be appealing to the guest."
Antorcha said he suspected that some Holland America customers didn't want gratuities bundled into the all-inclusive fares because they wanted the option to raise or lower their gratuity amount on board ships if they felt like they received good or bad service. That's an option under the current system.
"I thought it would score higher," Antorcha noted, speaking of included gratuities. "But we surveyed tens of thousands of people. These were very large datasets. So I'm pretty confident in not including it. You've got to go based on what the research tells you makes the most sense."
Antorcha said Holland America also got great feedback from travel agents about the four things the line is including in the Have It All fares.
"They felt this was a product they could sell and will be well received by their clients," he said.
There is some variation to what's included in the Have It All fares based on the length of a cruise.
For cruises between six and nine nights in length, the Have It All fares include one shore excursion valued at up to $100 per person per cruise (or a $100 credit to a more expensive shore excursion). On cruises of 10 to 20 days, passengers get two such included excursions. The number jumps to three included excursions on sailings of 21 or more days.
Similarly, passengers will get either one, two or three nights of dining in a specialty restaurant depending on the length of their cruise.
To offer more free excursions or more free dining would have forced the line to raise prices too much to make sense, Antorcha said.
"You could include [an excursion] every day. But the package becomes very, very expensive," he said. "It would make it either uneconomical for the brand or very expensive for the guests."
In offering just one to three excursions and fine dining experiences per passenger, Antorcha said the line as trying to "thread that needle a little bit" on making a bundle that had a lot of appeal to customers without costing so much nobody could afford it.
"I think what we got from the research really suggested that a [single] shore excursion and a [single] dining on a seven day cruise is significant enough to make it very appealing," he said.
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