The debate over the small print in cruise contracts will be decided by an Australian judge after hearing evidence in a landmark case this week.
All cruise lines are watching the outcome of the case with interest. Justice Peter Garling’s decision may see them rewriting their contracts to redefine what passengers are entitled to.
Over 1,000 unhappy passengers filed a class action against the leading river cruise company Scenic claiming the line had changed and altered their river cruise experience.
The guests booked a river cruise in Europe between May 10, 2013 and June 14, 2013 but heavy rainfall in France and Germany caused major flooding.
As a result, the vessels were unable to operate for six weeks with Scenic and Evergreen Tours bussing its passengers to various cities and sites by coach.
The passengers maintain their cruise was not a cruise. Instead of spending evenings onboard Scenic’s five-star ships, the passengers endured very long bus rides and, in some cases, stayed overnight at “low-budget hotels”.
The plaintiff’s lawyer Alistair Abadee said, “There was a substantial disruption to the passenger’s experience. Scenic had an obligation to its clients to provide a consistent and similar experience to the cruise.”
Mr Abadee also went on to say that the experience the passengers had paid for was not consistent with the river cruise that was advertised to them.
In a statement of claim, the group said Scenic Tours breached Australian Consumer Law by failing to cancel or delay the cruises, offer alternative tours or warn of expected disruptions.
Scenic is defending the case by saying it is stated in its terms and conditions of contract that the company is allowed to make changes to itineraries include due to road, river and weather conditions.
The company also said it was not liable for any loss, cost or damage including the failure to perform its obligations because of an events like high water levels.
In the same week the Scenic court case commenced, the company announced a new river guarantee which says, “Staying true to our commitment of being all-inclusive, Scenic has partnered with a well-known global insurance company to offer, for the first time, river cruising travel insurance.
“On every Scenic river cruise you’ll be automatically covered once you commence your cruise for any delays or cancellations that occur due to weather, natural disasters, mechanical breakdowns or strikes. There’s nothing extra to pay, we automatically cover you in the price you pay for your cruise.
“We appreciate that you’ve invested a lot in your holiday with us and we want to ensure that we provide you with peace of mind when travelling with Scenic.
“Our river cruising guarantee is designed to give you comfort and assurance for certain events which prevent you from cruising, and are not considered typical or usual to river cruising. Our river cruising guarantee is designed to insure for unforeseen events rather than minor delays or deviations.
“In the event that a claim is required, instead of the industry standard of future cruise credits you will be refunded in cash.”
Damien Thomas, Scenic’s Chief Operating Officer said, “We wanted to be the first company that offered such a guarantee as part of our all-inclusive commitment to our guests. Every river cruise operator faces the same challenges with regards to prevailing weather conditions so instead of cancelling cruises and having our guests at the mercy of their travel insurer we wanted to make sure that we were guaranteeing the product and offering peace of mind when travelling with us. We are constantly looking for ways we can add value to our river cruises and we feel that this will be welcomed by our guests.”