How much to tip on tours

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Richard E. Smith of Long Beach, California, opened up the topic of tipping on tours (April ’07, pg. 4). Questions he asked included 1) “Should the cost of tipping be included in the tour price?,” 2) “Should there be an existing standard for tipping adhered to by most tour companies?,” 3) “Should an escrow tipping account be set up for each traveler, to be refunded partially or in toto (the reason being that some cheapskates never tip a penny)?” and 4) “Should travel companies be required to advise of their tipping recommendations in their advertisements?

Richard said that for his fall 2006 tour in Central America, Overseas Adventure Travel recommended tipping the driver $3-$4 per day, the trip leader $7-$10 per day and each local guide $3-$4 per day. He wondered what amounts other companies recommended in various countries and how much readers actually ended up tipping. He also invited readers to share what they feel are appropriate amounts to tip drivers, accompanying guides, daily local guides, housekeeping, etc.

Readers’ comments appear in the July, August and October issues. Here are a few more. ITN would like to know — after reading these letters, have you changed your mind about how you will tip from now on? Write to How Much to Tip on Tours?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mailing editor@intl travelnews.com (please include the address at which you receive ITN). When possible, include which tour company you traveled with, which countries you visited and when (month/year) each tour took place. (ITN prints no information about destinations in North America or the Caribbean.) Photos are welcome.

I’m always amused at how much the big companies like to suggest their guides be tipped — for example, Tauck World Discovery (Westport, CT; 800/468-2825, www.tauck.com) — while smaller companies tend to ask for less. But it would be far more telling to know how much operators actually pay their guides and/or drivers. Companies like Caravan Tours (Chicago, IL; 800/227-2826, www. caravantours.com), for example, apparently pay their guides virtually nothing (more than one of their guides told me this); the guides must always be on call to perform.

It also depends on how many members comprise a group. Since Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/221-0814, www.oattravel.com) purports 16 travelers maximum, $7 to $10 per day per member is probably acceptable. But, as Richard E. Smith suggests, perhaps an all-inclusive price should be given — paid up front — with the stipulation that members have the option to give a little extra for superior, personal service.

We usually start with the minimum and add on accordingly, depending on the service performed. Note: there are some “free” days when the tour escort is either conducting optional tours or during which no contact is made whatsoever with tour members; I feel members should not be required to tip for these days. And consider shopping stops in place of valuable sightseeing; you know the escort is being given a sizable kickback.

Drivers often give unsolicited and often valuable “off-the-record” comments and insights that perhaps do not conform to the script of a tour escort. They, too, play a large roll and often are ignored or underpaid by travelers.

For city guides, it is important to find out in advance if gratuities are included. Often the escort will give the local guide a gratuity after the tour. If not, $1-$2 per person, in local currency, is fine for a half day or double that amount for a full day. Be sure to note what the tour escort is doing during these city tours. Is he/she accounting for important things or is this a free day for him/her to wander about?

Often, tour escorts are wonderful people and deserve all the kudos and financial rewards they have coming. On the other hand, one should never be intimidated to pay for lousy service. On a “Country Roads of Bavaria” tour with Insight Vacations (Anaheim, CA; 800/582-8380, www.insightvacations.com) five or six years ago, a last-minute guide had to take over. Not only did he know nothing but he told horror stories about airplane crashes and publicly humiliated members by name. (When I wrote Insight, I heard from the supreme master that this would never happen again — and on the four tours I’ve taken with them since, it hasn’t.)

Although I haven’t given a rule-of-thumb guideline, I hope most travelers realize that, with so many variables, we might as well be back to square one!

Michael Mouat

Santa Rosa, CA

The amount the tour leader is tipped should be commensurate with the job performed.

It also should have some relationship to the venue. I would expect to leave a much larger tip in Germany than in Laos, for example, since the amount of money that would cover an hour’s wages for the average German worker could well be a week’s wages for the average Laotian. A tip that wouldn’t pay for a meal in Western Europe could provide food for a week in a third-world nation.

When we visited Thailand about three years ago, the average construction worker there was making about $5 a day, while a doctor made about twice that. It seems incongruous that — at the tour-leader-tipping guidelines suggested by companies such as Overseas Adventure Travel ($7-$10 per person per day) — a guide there should get about $300 a day in tips alone from a busload of three dozen tourists. In some other countries, the average earnings are even lower; in Vietnam we were told that a schoolteacher received only about $50 a month.

Note that the tips are in addition to the money paid to a guide by a tour company. I don’t know how much this is, but one of our tour leaders, who also free-lanced, had daily rates published on the Internet. These ranged from $25 for small groups to $40 for large groups. For a busload of 35 to 40 people, this worked out to a little more than $1 a person. Leaving the suggested collective tip would be equivalent to leaving a 200-dollar tip for a 25-dollar meal or taxi ride.

Most tour guides, as well as drivers, also receive kickbacks from restaurants and shops to which the group members are taken. This is the normal way of doing business in many countries.

On a trip to India, a shopkeeper in a hotel store told us that his prices were lower than those at the factory store where the groups (including ours) were taken because he didn’t have to give a percentage of the sale price to anyone. We bought similar items from both and he was right.

On a trip in Vietnam, when we had to go to a different restaurant due to overbooking, our driver was upset, I learned, because he lost his cut.

In a number of places where the tour groups have used local services, such as for a short boat trip or rickshaw ride, there was usually a “suggestion” to give the driver a dollar or two per person as a tip. It’s possible that this was the only income they received for their efforts, since that was much more than a local person would have been charged for the same service.

In many of the countries we visited, I got the impression that being a tour guide was one of the most sought-after professions. It’s easy to see why.

On the plus side, with much competition between guides, the tour companies can be very selective regarding the quality of guides they hire.

Tipping is a personal thing and should be done individually. Passing an envelope around is generally not a good idea.

On the subject of whether tips should or should not be included in the tour price, I feel that all tipping other than that for the tour leader(s) should be part of the basic tour price. This includes hotel and restaurant services, transportation providers and local “walk-on” guides. Among other things, this eliminates the need for our carrying a lot of small change or bills in foreign currency.

An exception is when an individual goes out of his way to provide extraordinary service. We had this occur in Hong Gai, Vietnam, when my wife had a dental emergency. The assistant hotel manager made arrangements for a dentist who could see her immediately. He also got a cab to take us there and back, came along with us to serve as an interpreter and assisted in getting a prescription filled. He certainly deserved and received a good tip.

Russell Gluck

Franklin Lakes, NJ

Tipping is a sore subject, with me. A tip is supposed to be an amount given for extra or special service, but, increasingly, it has become a routine charge that is not advertised in advance. The reason is that cruise lines and tour companies pay their employees very poorly, in order to advertise low prices, and then strong-arm their patrons to tip lavishly to make up the difference

I am strongly in favor of employees’ being paid competitive wages, with no tipping and with the full price advertised in advance.

On a recent cruise, I heard about another cruise line (whose name I do not remember) which added daily “tip” to each passenger’s shipboard account, without advertising this fact in advance or seeking permission. If anyone tries this on me, they will have a fight on their hands.

I am signed up for a bike tour with VBT (614 Monkton Rd., Bristol, VT 05443; 800/245-3868, www.vbt.com). There was nothing in the brochure about tipping, but after I signed up and paid I received a trip guide with the following entry:

“It is customary to express a personal ‘thank you’ to your VBT Trip Leader at the end of your trip, especially if he or she has provided you with excellent service or individual assistance. We recommend the local currency equivalent of $10-$12 per person for each day of your trip for each Trip Leader.”

This is an outrage on several counts. It was not advertised in advance, and the amount is out of sight! With a group of 20, each Trip Leader would hope to collect an extra $200 per day.

Irving E. Dayton

Corvallis, OR

My husband and I went to Syria and Turkey on small private tours of about 18 people each in late summer of 2000 and 2001. These were arranged by a European professor familiar with the areas and booked through a travel agency in the Netherlands.

On the first tour, the organizer told the group that he thought a good amount for the tip should be $10 per person per day. The tours were 16 and 14 days long. He wanted to collect all the tip money and divide it approximately 60% to the guide/tour director and 40% to the driver, who was very competent.

Everybody put their money into the collection in sealed envelopes. Later, the organizer mentioned that he had given the tips and how much money had gone to the guide and the driver. The math just didn’t add up. Either we misunderstood him or some of the money just never made it into the tips.

It appeared that my husband and I had given about 25% of the total tip ourselves and that many of our fellow travelers had given very small amounts. We just let it go, thinking we must have made a mistake.

On the tour the next year, with some of the same people and the same organizer, we did the same thing and, again, the math just didn’t add up. Angry is a mild word for how we felt.

The point of the whole story is that, because of these incidents, we will absolutely never again give our tips for a tour as part of a group tip. We will give our gratuities directly to the recipients.

Name shielded

Illinois

To me, tipping is an embarrassment and a burden upon the person who is expected to give the tip. It is also an embarrassment to the recipients because it leaves each of them questioning if they did their job properly or not. Personally, I think it should be abolished so that we can all live in harmony instead of having to question ourselves.

Olive Bavins

San Francisco, CA

I am originally from Germany and became involved in the tourism industry by accident. I worked in a tour company as a group tour coordinator, tour manager and sales representative and now have my own tour company.

I do not understand why there always seems to be a distinction between tips for the bus driver and the tour manager/guide. It seems to me that the driver is as important to a successful tour as a well-prepared and educated tour manager.

The safety of the passengers is of utmost importance and is the responsibility of the driver. The driver and the tour manager are a team — they talk about routing and schedules to fulfill the given itinerary in a timely fashion — so why do tour companies and travelers not feel that both the driver and tour leader/manager deserve the same compensation if they both do their jobs well?

When I am the tour manager, I make sure that the driver is compensated for his services, even if it means taking money from my own personal funds if I feel he is not getting the compensation he deserves.

To not tip the driver at all, even on transfers, I feel is really being cheap and quite inconsiderate.

I also feel that tipping to local city guides should be handled by the tour manager and that these expenses should be included in the tour cost.

Elke A. Austin-Foote

Rochester, MN

On an ElderTreks (Toronto, Ont., Canada; 800/741-7956, www.eldertreks. com) trip to Mali and Burkina Faso, Oct. 29-Nov. 21, 2006, tipping became a real problem because I was not aware we were going to have more than one primary guide in addition to local guides, five drivers and a cook.

The company suggested tipping $7-$10 per day for each trip leader (we had three) and $3-$5 for each driver and local guide. Each day, we rotated drivers and so we felt like each (all were excellent) deserved a tip.

Setting aside enough money for this much tipping was a problem because I had not brought enough cash, and ATM access was very limited. I ended up borrowing from other travelers in our group.

I would like to know before I leave how many people we may be considering giving tips to. When the travel company prepares the final packet, I would like to be notified how many drivers, guides, cooks, etc., there will be. My travel is frequently to areas where there are few opportunities to get additional cash.

(The Mali and Burkina Faso trip was fantastic, by the way. Everyone in our group — all world travelers — said it was the best trip they had ever been on, and we all gave ElderTreks very high marks in every regard. The people of both countries were very accepting of tourists and very hospitable. I even returned to Mali on my own in June ’07!)

I do believe tipping should be left up to the discretion of the traveler, so I am opposed to escrow accounts or having the travel company include tipping in the price of the trip. It would be quite helpful if there were a standard that most tour companies followed.

Luella Paddack

Tigard, OR

I am currently organizing a group tour to Spain and Portugal scheduled for September ’08. During my e-mailed discussions with the travel agent, I asked about tipping. I learned that taxes as well as tipping of the tour personnel have been included in the price of the tour. I would recommend that travelers ask about tipping during the planning part of their tour if a travel agent is involved.

For personal tipping while abroad, I would suggest readers go online to www.magellans.com and read Magellan’s “Worldwide Tipping Guide.” This useful tipping summary includes suggested tipping at restaurants as well as for porters and taxi drivers.

Keith Marriott

Cincinnati, OH

Thank you for asking this big, gnarly question! I feel I could write a book on this after just nine group tours with six different companies.

This issue is important to me because I am a budget traveler and a good consumer. I need to know tours’ total costs in order to make sound purchase decisions. I want fair, square dealing.

In my financial preparation for group touring, other shortfalls result from 1) undisclosed costs of shore excursions and non-included cruise-staff tip-escrow requirements when a group tour or trip extension incorporates a cruise; 2) non-included meals at restaurants selected by the tour director or the company, and 3) “surprise optionals” arranged by the tour director and driver for which a majority vote of the group is sought.

I like Go Ahead Vacations (Cambridge, MA; 800/242-4686, www. goaheadvacations.com) a lot, but on its Greece tour in spring 2007 those things combined to victimize at least one first-timer in our group.

Overtipping makes U.S. tourists “ugly Americans.” It leads to the perception that we’re rich and stupid. Also, it makes smarmy supplicants out of tourism workers, which makes me want to pick up my goodwill and run away.

My 90-some-year-old English friend rues the day when Americans brought tipping to her country. Now it’s expected of the locals.

In my experience, comprehensive tour companies, those dealing directly with customers (GCT, OAT, Go Ahead Vacations, etc.), are probably the most forthcoming with tip “suggestions,” and U.S. booking agents for overseas tour providers are the least so unless asked for the information. One such U.S. booking agent is Sayang Holidays (San Francisco, CA; 888/472-9264, www. sayangholidays.com), which, upon questioning, provides candid info on tipping.

In general, at present my personal guidelines for a group of 10 to 30 would be $3-$4 for the tour director, $1-$2 for the driver per full day and $1-$2 for a very good local guide’s half day.

In determining the sizes of the tips, I consider the size of the group, the length of the tour, and the tour director’s competence and genuineness versus smarminess, and I expect the driver to show some concern for his passengers as being more than just freight. I guess this is how I’ve tipped since 1998, when I began touring (except then I didn’t know I was supposed to tip local guides), and I don’t want to adjust upward for the fall in the U.S. dollar’s relative value.

It seems to be common knowledge that the tour director and/or the tour company receives commissions on purchases made at studio/showroom/shop stops. I’ve made some substantial purchases at several of these firmly scheduled, included-but-unadvertised stops and would like to know what percentage of my purchase I may/should take into consideration when tipping the tour director.

I tip because I’m supposed to, not because I want to or because it brings me joy. One of my tour mates bought our tour director Hermès cufflinks in Biarritz as his tip. She said it brought her joy to do it.

Carole Reagle

Waterloo, Ia

I have traveled the world for 25 years, using AAT Kings Tours, Australian Pacific Touring, Elderhostel, Grand Circle Travel, Overseas Adventure Travel, Intrepid Travel, Goway Travel, Adventure Center, MIR Corp., Globus and many more. I have visited seven continents and over 150 countries. My travel experience raises a question: what is a tip?

My definition — it is payment for service over and above what was contracted for.

A tour company provides a director and guides. These are the company’s employees and they should be compensated fairly.

Some tour companies see tips as a gimmick to enhance their profit. Therefore, a tip amounts to a subsidy for the company.

When contracting for a tour, one should be able to assume that all services are compensated for. Since I do assume that I have paid in advance for all services, I provide a gratuity only if I receive service over and above that which was contracted for.

If others consider me cheap, that’s not my worry.

Norbert Kramer

Black Earth, WI

We at Grand Circle Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel have been following the discussion among ITN readers about tipping, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

We have found, over the course of 50 years in business and particularly after conducting some research several years ago, that a strong correlation exists between the quality ratings our travelers give to their Program Directors and Trip Leaders and the ratings they give to their trips. A traveler who rates his or her guide as “excellent” is very likely to rate his or her trip as excellent, too. Our results clearly prove that a guide can make or break a trip.

Colleagues from our 45 overseas offices and our Boston office spend hundreds of hours each year training Program Directors and Trip Leaders, all foreign nationals, in how to deliver an excellent experience for our travelers. We expect each guide to deliver this, and we provide coaching for those who need help to do better. We do not work with guides who cannot meet our travelers’ expectations.

Our experience has taught us, and perhaps human nature suggests, that people perform at a higher level when there is an incentive. As a company, we work to meet our goals with an incentive plan in place. For our Program Directors and Trip Leaders, the incentive is in the tips. We establish what we believe are fair tipping guidelines for both GCT and OAT based on the expertise, skills and myriad responsibilities of our well-trained guides. We offer the guidelines to our travelers, but, ultimately, they choose who and how much to tip.

I can understand some readers’ preference to have tips included in a trip’s base price. And I can understand how some would prefer to tip less, and, of course, that’s a personal decision and their choice. However, based on our 50 years in business, we know that providing an incentive that guides must work toward avoids complacency and leads to better experiences for our travelers.

Mark C. Frevert, Executive Vice President, Grand Circle Corporation, Boston, MA

It upsets me that, when it comes to tipping, anyone would count only himself or herself and not his spouse as an individual, tipping as if together they were only one person. I am very sure that if someone’s wife became ill or needed some extra attention, the husband would demand it.

Each person is an individual. On some tours, each gets a bottle of water or wet wipe when returning to the bus. Does each couple take just one and share it? I doubt it. Which means the bus driver or his helper have to plan for both people. I’ve been on tours where the driver and guide planned a picnic or special stop with food and utensils for all.

But somehow when tipping time comes, the spouse becomes invisible? Shame!

On another aspect of this issue, I have been on a total of four tours with Grand Circle Travel (Boston, MA: 800/248-3737, www.gct.com) and Overseas Adventure Travel and, yes, their tipping rates seemed a bit high, but in each case the driver and guide MADE the trip the wonderful experience it was.

Example — in Thailand the driver knew of a small, one-monk house where wild monkeys flocked. When we returned to the bus, the driver had purchased a huge stack of bananas and asked if we would like to visit the monkeys. We all said “Yes!” Trust me, this was a place no one would ever have found on their own. Even our guide didn’t know about it. It was a highlight of the trip, with monkeys scurrying out of the fields and down to where we stood throwing banana after banana at them.

In Ireland the driver and guide planned an extra nighttime excursion to a little seaside village pub. They treated us each to a drink, and we had a private concert from a musician who sang wonderful bawdy ballads. They also planned a picnic for us in another village. We were the envy of all the other tour groups there.

In Peru the driver noticed many schoolchildren scurrying across the plaza in costumes. He and the guide had a talk and we were asked if we wanted to go to a ceremony at a local school. Being a former teacher, I loved it. I went right into a classroom and talked to the teacher and some of the students.

In Turkey, well, the driver earned every penny just for negotiating the bus safely around the roads in that country, especially along the cliffs by the Mediterranean.

I give each tip in an individual envelope. I also write a little note of appreciation. I tip chambermaids at least $1 a day. I tip anyone else who does a special favor for me.

I try to give the tip in the currency of the country, unless they have specifically requested U.S. dollars. If you have seen the lines at banks in some countries, you know that exchanging money can be an extreme hardship which, for them, may involve waiting half a day. And I never leave U.S. coins, as they cannot be cashed in at all.

The bottom line, for me, is that usually I am spending between $2,000 and $4,000 on a tour. I am not going to even think about the tip money as a problem; I just plan that as a trip expense.

Carolyn Taylor

Memphis, TN

To evaluate if the tipping guidelines given to American travelers visiting overseas are too high, too low or just right, I would like a wider perspective, as follows.

What guidelines are given to foreign tourists traveling to the U.S., e.g., Chinese visiting the U.S.?

What guidelines are given to non-American tourists visiting other countries, e.g., Germans visiting Cambodia?

If anyone can provide examples, please write in.

Connie Hudock

Union, NJ

When my husband, Larry, and I retired 21 years ago we became frequent travelers — 80 countries, to date — so we’ve had lots of experience tipping.

The best tour company in this regard is Adventures Abroad (Blaine, WA; 800/665-3998, www.adventures-abroad.com). Their tours, for no more than 21 participants, are led by professional tour leaders and include breakfast and dinner each day, all transportation, sightseeing, entrance fees, porter service, arrival and departure transfers and all gratuities for hotel staff, meals, coach captains and local guides.

Lunches are on your own, after suggestions by the tour leader, so there’s that one daily (meal) tip, plus whatever you want to give the tour leader at the end.

This system is so much more relaxing, and they have trips all over the world!

Janet Nelson

Ashland, OR

I really appreciated reading the many letters on tipping — good information. There is one aspect of tipping that I haven’t seen, one becoming popular in cruise shipboard tipping, and it just makes me boil. Here goes.

I first ran into this on Norwegian Cruise Line (Miami, FL; 800/327-7030, www.ncl.com) in 2002 when, on a South America cruise, they said, basically, ‘To make it fair, we will charge you a gratuity of X dollars per day which will be distributed to all of our service personnel.’

Ugh! Fortunately, I was promised that I could go to the front desk and request that the charge not be made, that I could take care of tipping, myself, as I had done many, many times before. Well, of course, I opted for the latter and I/we tipped as before.

On a Holland America Line (Seattle, WA; 800/426-0327, www. hollandamerica.com) cruise from China to Japan in March ’07 we encountered the same policy. This time it would be $10 per person per day. I proceeded to the front desk and requested that my account not be charged, saying I would take care of tipping, myself. I was about to depart the desk when the lady told me that all members of the staff were obliged to hand over their personally received gratuities, which then would be put into a “pool” to be shared by all.

Well, I raised a storm. This sort of thing, in my opinion, totally dissolves the purpose of tipping. It is now becoming mini-socialism. Our sincerely granted gratuity for excellent service is now handed over to others with whom I have had good, bad or no dealings.

I was not alone. As I left the front desk, I overheard other very angry passengers expressing their views. They were no happier about this than was I.

It seemed there was no way to win this. However, on the way back to the cabin I ran into our cabin attendant, a nice man to whom we intended to tip a whole lot better than what would have been available to him through this little shipboard socialism.

I asked him if it were true that he would have to hand over to the “pool” whatever I gave him. He sheepishly said it was. I then told him to give me his address in his home city and I would mail him his gratuity. Well, without revealing how we worked this out, he got his tip from us and the “pool” got none of it. He probably got a piece of the “pool” too. Good for him!

We’re not new to cruising. We’ve been doing it a long time. This stuff just burns me up. Any notion of what tipping is about is soundly diluted or dissolved by such policies.

George N. Gianoulos

Fresno, CA

In many years of travel, my wife and I have used Grand Circle Travel or the related Overseas Adventure Travel a total of about 12 times, and I have always been embarrassed by the blatant demands for tips and the companies’ tacit involvement in this.

My stance has always been that the company should pay its employees at a rate sufficient to avoid this practice and should not expect its clients to make up the “difference.” If this means that the tour price needs to be higher to accommodate this salary scale, so be it.

The scales suggested by OAT raise the cost quite an amount. After all, if two of you take an 18-day trip, you could be out of pocket $360 for the tour leader, $144 for the driver(s) and about another $30 for local guides — a total of nearly $550!

At the risk of being one of Mr. Smith’s “cheapskates,” I would say that my wife and I each have usually divided these guidelines by two. We just returned from a GCT trip to Italy and figured that if each client kept to the guidelines, the guide would make over $4,000. Since we like to do our own thing when there, we felt this was rather over the top.

We now tend to look for companies which include gratuities in the overall price.

Surely, it must also be an embarrassment for a guide to have to stand at his bus door collecting envelopes. In short, I say drop the whole practice and pay the employees properly!

We met the most invidious example of this practice on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship in 2002, where we were informed that they would be adding $10 per person per day to the onboard account to avoid “tipping.” On that cruise and our next with NCL in early 2003, it was possible to get this amount reduced by being insistent with the purser’s office, where they always produced the question, “Why do you want to reduce this amount? Is the service not up to standard?”

That encouraged us to try NCL again, in July 2003, but by then the charge was mandatory and could not be changed. At no time had this charge been detailed in the cruise line’s literature*. This made the advertised cruise price inaccurate. We gave up. NCL no longer has us as passengers.

For one thing, the $10 per person per day includes the portions of days NCL ships are in harbor, and you know how short disembarkation day is.

This surcharge also removes the passenger’s ability to reward good service. Not every waiter is as good as the other, and we did note on one cruise a maitre d’ who appeared on the final night without ever having been seen before.

If companies are going to add gratuities, let them put it in the price and not ask for tipping.

I am reminded of the old story of the couple who, having booked an amazingly cheap Mediterranean cruise, found that it was on a Roman galley and they had to row all day every day to the insistent beat of a large drum and the ministrations of a man with a whip. Upon their return to Marseilles, totally exhausted, the husband asked his wife, “Should we tip the drummer?”

Christopher Hartley

Ormond Beach, FL

*NCL’s website does state, “A fixed service charge of $10 per person per day will be added to your onboard account.”

I have been reading with some amusement the debate of what is an appropriate tipping strategy for the accompanying guides, local guides, drivers, housekeeping, etc., and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘Aren’t we sweating the small stuff?’

Invariably, near the end of escorted tours, even the ones that give recommended tipping ranges, everyone seems to huddle in their friendship groups that were formed during the course of the tour to see what everyone else is doing in this regard.

What I find to be somewhat ironic is that the amount of the tipping budget is really, in my view, inconsequential to the overall cost of the tour itself (including the tour cost, airfare if not included, meals not covered, optional tours taken during the tour, gifts for the family, etc.).

It seems that, for some, dropping $5,000 to $7,500 — for, let’s assume, a 14-day fully escorted tour, with international coach airfare and the other usual out-of-pocket expenditures mentioned above — is not as big of a deal as parting with $150 to $250 to reward those who facilitated the entire tour while on their watch.

Beyond sweating the small stuff, I would suggest the following.

• Prior to taking the tour, just budget and stash or otherwise come up with a means to allocate and provide a tipping amount, so that when the time comes it is there ready to disburse.

• Personally, I would prefer that the amount be part of the tour cost so that it is already taken care of and I don’t have to deal with it when the time comes. If at the end of the trip I feel that the “service charge” was unwarranted, then I will deal with the tour company when I return.

In any event, I would venture to say that the people who drive us, inform us, arrange things for us and otherwise watch over us are not highly compensated individuals, but they do it for the same reason we took the tour in the first place: the love for travel, adventure and enlightenment.

As the amount we give them is really so small when compared to the overall investment we have made in the experience, I find it difficult to understand why we make such a big deal of it.

Jeffery L Carrier

Naples, FL

Please login or subscribe to ITN to read the entire post.

Richard E. Smith of Long Beach, California, opened up the topic of tipping on tours (April ’07, pg. 4). Questions he asked included 1) “Should the cost of tipping be included in the tour price?,” 2) “Should there be an existing standard for tipping adhered to by most tour companies?,” 3) “Should an escrow tipping account be set up for each traveler, to be refunded partially or in toto (the reason being that some cheapskates never tip a penny)?” and 4) “Should travel companies be required to advise of their tipping recommendations in their advertisements?

Richard said that for his fall 2006 tour in Central America, Overseas Adventure Travel recommended tipping the driver $3-$4 per day, the trip leader $7-$10 per day and each local guide $3-$4 per day. He wondered what amounts other companies recommended in various countries and how much readers actually ended up tipping. He also invited readers to share what they feel are appropriate amounts to tip drivers, accompanying guides, daily local guides, housekeeping, etc.

Readers’ comments appear in the July, August and October issues. Here are a few more. ITN would like to know — after reading these letters, have you changed your mind about how you will tip from now on? Write to How Much to Tip on Tours?, c/o ITN, 2116 28th St., Sacramento, CA 95818, or e-mailing editor@intl travelnews.com (please include the address at which you receive ITN). When possible, include which tour company you traveled with, which countries you visited and when (month/year) each tour took place. (ITN prints no information about destinations in North America or the Caribbean.) Photos are welcome.

I’m always amused at how much the big companies like to suggest their guides be tipped — for example, Tauck World Discovery (Westport, CT; 800/468-2825, www.tauck.com) — while smaller companies tend to ask for less. But it would be far more telling to know how much operators actually pay their guides and/or drivers. Companies like Caravan Tours (Chicago, IL; 800/227-2826, www. caravantours.com), for example, apparently pay their guides virtually nothing (more than one of their guides told me this); the guides must always be on call to perform.

It also depends on how many members comprise a group. Since Overseas Adventure Travel (Cambridge, MA; 800/221-0814, www.oattravel.com) purports 16 travelers maximum, $7 to $10 per day per member is probably acceptable. But, as Richard E. Smith suggests, perhaps an all-inclusive price should be given — paid up front — with the stipulation that members have the option to give a little extra for superior, personal service.

We usually start with the minimum and add on accordingly, depending on the service performed. Note: there are some “free” days when the tour escort is either conducting optional tours or during which no contact is made whatsoever with tour members; I feel members should not be required to tip for these days. And consider shopping stops in place of valuable sightseeing; you know the escort is being given a sizable kickback.

Drivers often give unsolicited and often valuable “off-the-record” comments and insights that perhaps do not conform to the script of a tour escort. They, too, play a large roll and often are ignored or underpaid by travelers.

For city guides, it is important to find out in advance if gratuities are included. Often the escort will give the local guide a gratuity after the tour. If not, $1-$2 per person, in local currency, is fine for a half day or double that amount for a full day. Be sure to note what the tour escort is doing during these city tours. Is he/she accounting for important things or is this a free day for him/her to wander about?

Often, tour escorts are wonderful people and deserve all the kudos and financial rewards they have coming. On the other hand, one should never be intimidated to pay for lousy service. On a “Country Roads of Bavaria” tour with Insight Vacations (Anaheim, CA; 800/582-8380, www.insightvacations.com) five or six years ago, a last-minute guide had to take over. Not only did he know nothing but he told horror stories about airplane crashes and publicly humiliated members by name. (When I wrote Insight, I heard from the supreme master that this would never happen again — and on the four tours I’ve taken with them since, it hasn’t.)

Although I haven’t given a rule-of-thumb guideline, I hope most travelers realize that, with so many variables, we might as well be back to square one!

Michael Mouat

Santa Rosa, CA

The amount the tour leader is tipped should be commensurate with the job performed.

It also should have some relationship to the venue. I would expect to leave a much larger tip in Germany than in Laos, for example, since the amount of money that would cover an hour’s wages for the average German worker could well be a week’s wages for the average Laotian. A tip that wouldn’t pay for a meal in Western Europe could provide food for a week in a third-world nation.

When we visited Thailand about three years ago, the average construction worker there was making about $5 a day, while a doctor made about twice that. It seems incongruous that — at the tour-leader-tipping guidelines suggested by companies such as Overseas Adventure Travel ($7-$10 per person per day) — a guide there should get about $300 a day in tips alone from a busload of three dozen tourists. In some other countries, the average earnings are even lower; in Vietnam we were told that a schoolteacher received only about $50 a month.

Note that the tips are in addition to the money paid to a guide by a tour company. I don’t know how much this is, but one of our tour leaders, who also free-lanced, had daily rates published on the Internet. These ranged from $25 for small groups to $40 for large groups. For a busload of 35 to 40 people, this worked out to a little more than $1 a person. Leaving the suggested collective tip would be equivalent to leaving a 200-dollar tip for a 25-dollar meal or taxi ride.

Most tour guides, as well as drivers, also receive kickbacks from restaurants and shops to which the group members are taken. This is the normal way of doing business in many countries.

On a trip to India, a shopkeeper in a hotel store told us that his prices were lower than those at the factory store where the groups (including ours) were taken because he didn’t have to give a percentage of the sale price to anyone. We bought similar items from both and he was right.

On a trip in Vietnam, when we had to go to a different restaurant due to overbooking, our driver was upset, I learned, because he lost his cut.

In a number of places where the tour groups have used local services, such as for a short boat trip or rickshaw ride, there was usually a “suggestion” to give the driver a dollar or two per person as a tip. It’s possible that this was the only income they received for their efforts, since that was much more than a local person would have been charged for the same service.

In many of the countries we visited, I got the impression that being a tour guide was one of the most sought-after professions. It’s easy to see why.

On the plus side, with much competition between guides, the tour companies can be very selective regarding the quality of guides they hire.

Tipping is a personal thing and should be done individually. Passing an envelope around is generally not a good idea.

On the subject of whether tips should or should not be included in the tour price, I feel that all tipping other than that for the tour leader(s) should be part of the basic tour price. This includes hotel and restaurant services, transportation providers and local “walk-on” guides. Among other things, this eliminates the need for our carrying a lot of small change or bills in foreign currency.

An exception is when an individual goes out of his way to provide extraordinary service. We had this occur in Hong Gai, Vietnam, when my wife had a dental emergency. The assistant hotel manager made arrangements for a dentist who could see her immediately. He also got a cab to take us there and back, came along with us to serve as an interpreter and assisted in getting a prescription filled. He certainly deserved and received a good tip.

Russell Gluck

Franklin Lakes, NJ

Tipping is a sore subject, with me. A tip is supposed to be an amount given for extra or special service, but, increasingly, it has become a routine charge that is not advertised in advance. The reason is that cruise lines and tour companies pay their employees very poorly, in order to advertise low prices, and then strong-arm their patrons to tip lavishly to make up the difference

I am strongly in favor of employees’ being paid competitive wages, with no tipping and with the full price advertised in advance.

On a recent cruise, I heard about another cruise line (whose name I do not remember) which added daily “tip” to each passenger’s shipboard account, without advertising this fact in advance or seeking permission. If anyone tries this on me, they will have a fight on their hands.

I am signed up for a bike tour with VBT (614 Monkton Rd., Bristol, VT 05443; 800/245-3868, www.vbt.com). There was nothing in the brochure about tipping, but after I signed up and paid I received a trip guide with the following entry:

“It is customary to express a personal ‘thank you’ to your VBT Trip Leader at the end of your trip, especially if he or she has provided you with excellent service or individual assistance. We recommend the local currency equivalent of $10-$12 per person for each day of your trip for each Trip Leader.”

This is an outrage on several counts. It was not advertised in advance, and the amount is out of sight! With a group of 20, each Trip Leader would hope to collect an extra $200 per day.

Irving E. Dayton

Corvallis, OR

My husband and I went to Syria and Turkey on small private tours of about 18 people each in late summer of 2000 and 2001. These were arranged by a European professor familiar with the areas and booked through a travel agency in the Netherlands.

On the first tour, the organizer told the group that he thought a good amount for the tip should be $10 per person per day. The tours were 16 and 14 days long. He wanted to collect all the tip money and divide it approximately 60% to the guide/tour director and 40% to the driver, who was very competent.

Everybody put their money into the collection in sealed envelopes. Later, the organizer mentioned that he had given the tips and how much money had gone to the guide and the driver. The math just didn’t add up. Either we misunderstood him or some of the money just never made it into the tips.

It appeared that my husband and I had given about 25% of the total tip ourselves and that many of our fellow travelers had given very small amounts. We just let it go, thinking we must have made a mistake.

On the tour the next year, with some of the same people and the same organizer, we did the same thing and, again, the math just didn’t add up. Angry is a mild word for how we felt.

The point of the whole story is that, because of these incidents, we will absolutely never again give our tips for a tour as part of a group tip. We will give our gratuities directly to the recipients.

Name shielded

Illinois

To me, tipping is an embarrassment and a burden upon the person who is expected to give the tip. It is also an embarrassment to the recipients because it leaves each of them questioning if they did their job properly or not. Personally, I think it should be abolished so that we can all live in harmony instead of having to question ourselves.

Olive Bavins

San Francisco, CA

I am originally from Germany and became involved in the tourism industry by accident. I worked in a tour company as a group tour coordinator, tour manager and sales representative and now have my own tour company.

I do not understand why there always seems to be a distinction between tips for the bus driver and the tour manager/guide. It seems to me that the driver is as important to a successful tour as a well-prepared and educated tour manager.

The safety of the passengers is of utmost importance and is the responsibility of the driver. The driver and the tour manager are a team — they talk about routing and schedules to fulfill the given itinerary in a timely fashion — so why do tour companies and travelers not feel that both the driver and tour leader/manager deserve the same compensation if they both do their jobs well?

When I am the tour manager, I make sure that the driver is compensated for his services, even if it means taking money from my own personal funds if I feel he is not getting the compensation he deserves.

To not tip the driver at all, even on transfers, I feel is really being cheap and quite inconsiderate.

I also feel that tipping to local city guides should be handled by the tour manager and that these expenses should be included in the tour cost.

Elke A. Austin-Foote

Rochester, MN

On an ElderTreks (Toronto, Ont., Canada; 800/741-7956, www.eldertreks. com) trip to Mali and Burkina Faso, Oct. 29-Nov. 21, 2006, tipping became a real problem because I was not aware we were going to have more than one primary guide in addition to local guides, five drivers and a cook.

The company suggested tipping $7-$10 per day for each trip leader (we had three) and $3-$5 for each driver and local guide. Each day, we rotated drivers and so we felt like each (all were excellent) deserved a tip.

Setting aside enough money for this much tipping was a problem because I had not brought enough cash, and ATM access was very limited. I ended up borrowing from other travelers in our group.

I would like to know before I leave how many people we may be considering giving tips to. When the travel company prepares the final packet, I would like to be notified how many drivers, guides, cooks, etc., there will be. My travel is frequently to areas where there are few opportunities to get additional cash.

(The Mali and Burkina Faso trip was fantastic, by the way. Everyone in our group — all world travelers — said it was the best trip they had ever been on, and we all gave ElderTreks very high marks in every regard. The people of both countries were very accepting of tourists and very hospitable. I even returned to Mali on my own in June ’07!)

I do believe tipping should be left up to the discretion of the traveler, so I am opposed to escrow accounts or having the travel company include tipping in the price of the trip. It would be quite helpful if there were a standard that most tour companies followed.

Luella Paddack

Tigard, OR

I am currently organizing a group tour to Spain and Portugal scheduled for September ’08. During my e-mailed discussions with the travel agent, I asked about tipping. I learned that taxes as well as tipping of the tour personnel have been included in the price of the tour. I would recommend that travelers ask about tipping during the planning part of their tour if a travel agent is involved.

For personal tipping while abroad, I would suggest readers go online to www.magellans.com and read Magellan’s “Worldwide Tipping Guide.” This useful tipping summary includes suggested tipping at restaurants as well as for porters and taxi drivers.

Keith Marriott

Cincinnati, OH

Thank you for asking this big, gnarly question! I feel I could write a book on this after just nine group tours with six different companies.

This issue is important to me because I am a budget traveler and a good consumer. I need to know tours’ total costs in order to make sound purchase decisions. I want fair, square dealing.

In my financial preparation for group touring, other shortfalls result from 1) undisclosed costs of shore excursions and non-included cruise-staff tip-escrow requirements when a group tour or trip extension incorporates a cruise; 2) non-included meals at restaurants selected by the tour director or the company, and 3) “surprise optionals” arranged by the tour director and driver for which a majority vote of the group is sought.

I like Go Ahead Vacations (Cambridge, MA; 800/242-4686, www. goaheadvacations.com) a lot, but on its Greece tour in spring 2007 those things combined to victimize at least one first-timer in our group.

Overtipping makes U.S. tourists “ugly Americans.” It leads to the perception that we’re rich and stupid. Also, it makes smarmy supplicants out of tourism workers, which makes me want to pick up my goodwill and run away.

My 90-some-year-old English friend rues the day when Americans brought tipping to her country. Now it’s expected of the locals.

In my experience, comprehensive tour companies, those dealing directly with customers (GCT, OAT, Go Ahead Vacations, etc.), are probably the most forthcoming with tip “suggestions,” and U.S. booking agents for overseas tour providers are the least so unless asked for the information. One such U.S. booking agent is Sayang Holidays (San Francisco, CA; 888/472-9264, www. sayangholidays.com), which, upon questioning, provides candid info on tipping.

In general, at present my personal guidelines for a group of 10 to 30 would be $3-$4 for the tour director, $1-$2 for the driver per full day and $1-$2 for a very good local guide’s half day.

In determining the sizes of the tips, I consider the size of the group, the length of the tour, and the tour director’s competence and genuineness versus smarminess, and I expect the driver to show some concern for his passengers as being more than just freight. I guess this is how I’ve tipped since 1998, when I began touring (except then I didn’t know I was supposed to tip local guides), and I don’t want to adjust upward for the fall in the U.S. dollar’s relative value.

It seems to be common knowledge that the tour director and/or the tour company receives commissions on purchases made at studio/showroom/shop stops. I’ve made some substantial purchases at several of these firmly scheduled, included-but-unadvertised stops and would like to know what percentage of my purchase I may/should take into consideration when tipping the tour director.

I tip because I’m supposed to, not because I want to or because it brings me joy. One of my tour mates bought our tour director Hermès cufflinks in Biarritz as his tip. She said it brought her joy to do it.

Carole Reagle

Waterloo, Ia

I have traveled the world for 25 years, using AAT Kings Tours, Australian Pacific Touring, Elderhostel, Grand Circle Travel, Overseas Adventure Travel, Intrepid Travel, Goway Travel, Adventure Center, MIR Corp., Globus and many more. I have visited seven continents and over 150 countries. My travel experience raises a question: what is a tip?

My definition — it is payment for service over and above what was contracted for.

A tour company provides a director and guides. These are the company’s employees and they should be compensated fairly.

Some tour companies see tips as a gimmick to enhance their profit. Therefore, a tip amounts to a subsidy for the company.

When contracting for a tour, one should be able to assume that all services are compensated for. Since I do assume that I have paid in advance for all services, I provide a gratuity only if I receive service over and above that which was contracted for.

If others consider me cheap, that’s not my worry.

Norbert Kramer

Black Earth, WI

We at Grand Circle Travel and Overseas Adventure Travel have been following the discussion among ITN readers about tipping, and I thought I’d share a few thoughts.

We have found, over the course of 50 years in business and particularly after conducting some research several years ago, that a strong correlation exists between the quality ratings our travelers give to their Program Directors and Trip Leaders and the ratings they give to their trips. A traveler who rates his or her guide as “excellent” is very likely to rate his or her trip as excellent, too. Our results clearly prove that a guide can make or break a trip.

Colleagues from our 45 overseas offices and our Boston office spend hundreds of hours each year training Program Directors and Trip Leaders, all foreign nationals, in how to deliver an excellent experience for our travelers. We expect each guide to deliver this, and we provide coaching for those who need help to do better. We do not work with guides who cannot meet our travelers’ expectations.

Our experience has taught us, and perhaps human nature suggests, that people perform at a higher level when there is an incentive. As a company, we work to meet our goals with an incentive plan in place. For our Program Directors and Trip Leaders, the incentive is in the tips. We establish what we believe are fair tipping guidelines for both GCT and OAT based on the expertise, skills and myriad responsibilities of our well-trained guides. We offer the guidelines to our travelers, but, ultimately, they choose who and how much to tip.

I can understand some readers’ preference to have tips included in a trip’s base price. And I can understand how some would prefer to tip less, and, of course, that’s a personal decision and their choice. However, based on our 50 years in business, we know that providing an incentive that guides must work toward avoids complacency and leads to better experiences for our travelers.

Mark C. Frevert, Executive Vice President, Grand Circle Corporation, Boston, MA

It upsets me that, when it comes to tipping, anyone would count only himself or herself and not his spouse as an individual, tipping as if together they were only one person. I am very sure that if someone’s wife became ill or needed some extra attention, the husband would demand it.

Each person is an individual. On some tours, each gets a bottle of water or wet wipe when returning to the bus. Does each couple take just one and share it? I doubt it. Which means the bus driver or his helper have to plan for both people. I’ve been on tours where the driver and guide planned a picnic or special stop with food and utensils for all.

But somehow when tipping time comes, the spouse becomes invisible? Shame!

On another aspect of this issue, I have been on a total of four tours with Grand Circle Travel (Boston, MA: 800/248-3737, www.gct.com) and Overseas Adventure Travel and, yes, their tipping rates seemed a bit high, but in each case the driver and guide MADE the trip the wonderful experience it was.

Example — in Thailand the driver knew of a small, one-monk house where wild monkeys flocked. When we returned to the bus, the driver had purchased a huge stack of bananas and asked if we would like to visit the monkeys. We all said “Yes!” Trust me, this was a place no one would ever have found on their own. Even our guide didn’t know about it. It was a highlight of the trip, with monkeys scurrying out of the fields and down to where we stood throwing banana after banana at them.

In Ireland the driver and guide planned an extra nighttime excursion to a little seaside village pub. They treated us each to a drink, and we had a private concert from a musician who sang wonderful bawdy ballads. They also planned a picnic for us in another village. We were the envy of all the other tour groups there.

In Peru the driver noticed many schoolchildren scurrying across the plaza in costumes. He and the guide had a talk and we were asked if we wanted to go to a ceremony at a local school. Being a former teacher, I loved it. I went right into a classroom and talked to the teacher and some of the students.

In Turkey, well, the driver earned every penny just for negotiating the bus safely around the roads in that country, especially along the cliffs by the Mediterranean.

I give each tip in an individual envelope. I also write a little note of appreciation. I tip chambermaids at least $1 a day. I tip anyone else who does a special favor for me.

I try to give the tip in the currency of the country, unless they have specifically requested U.S. dollars. If you have seen the lines at banks in some countries, you know that exchanging money can be an extreme hardship which, for them, may involve waiting half a day. And I never leave U.S. coins, as they cannot be cashed in at all.

The bottom line, for me, is that usually I am spending between $2,000 and $4,000 on a tour. I am not going to even think about the tip money as a problem; I just plan that as a trip expense.

Carolyn Taylor

Memphis, TN

To evaluate if the tipping guidelines given to American travelers visiting overseas are too high, too low or just right, I would like a wider perspective, as follows.

What guidelines are given to foreign tourists traveling to the U.S., e.g., Chinese visiting the U.S.?

What guidelines are given to non-American tourists visiting other countries, e.g., Germans visiting Cambodia?

If anyone can provide examples, please write in.

Connie Hudock

Union, NJ

When my husband, Larry, and I retired 21 years ago we became frequent travelers — 80 countries, to date — so we’ve had lots of experience tipping.

The best tour company in this regard is Adventures Abroad (Blaine, WA; 800/665-3998, www.adventures-abroad.com). Their tours, for no more than 21 participants, are led by professional tour leaders and include breakfast and dinner each day, all transportation, sightseeing, entrance fees, porter service, arrival and departure transfers and all gratuities for hotel staff, meals, coach captains and local guides.

Lunches are on your own, after suggestions by the tour leader, so there’s that one daily (meal) tip, plus whatever you want to give the tour leader at the end.

This system is so much more relaxing, and they have trips all over the world!

Janet Nelson

Ashland, OR

I really appreciated reading the many letters on tipping — good information. There is one aspect of tipping that I haven’t seen, one becoming popular in cruise shipboard tipping, and it just makes me boil. Here goes.

I first ran into this on Norwegian Cruise Line (Miami, FL; 800/327-7030, www.ncl.com) in 2002 when, on a South America cruise, they said, basically, ‘To make it fair, we will charge you a gratuity of X dollars per day which will be distributed to all of our service personnel.’

Ugh! Fortunately, I was promised that I could go to the front desk and request that the charge not be made, that I could take care of tipping, myself, as I had done many, many times before. Well, of course, I opted for the latter and I/we tipped as before.

On a Holland America Line (Seattle, WA; 800/426-0327, www. hollandamerica.com) cruise from China to Japan in March ’07 we encountered the same policy. This time it would be $10 per person per day. I proceeded to the front desk and requested that my account not be charged, saying I would take care of tipping, myself. I was about to depart the desk when the lady told me that all members of the staff were obliged to hand over their personally received gratuities, which then would be put into a “pool” to be shared by all.

Well, I raised a storm. This sort of thing, in my opinion, totally dissolves the purpose of tipping. It is now becoming mini-socialism. Our sincerely granted gratuity for excellent service is now handed over to others with whom I have had good, bad or no dealings.

I was not alone. As I left the front desk, I overheard other very angry passengers expressing their views. They were no happier about this than was I.

It seemed there was no way to win this. However, on the way back to the cabin I ran into our cabin attendant, a nice man to whom we intended to tip a whole lot better than what would have been available to him through this little shipboard socialism.

I asked him if it were true that he would have to hand over to the “pool” whatever I gave him. He sheepishly said it was. I then told him to give me his address in his home city and I would mail him his gratuity. Well, without revealing how we worked this out, he got his tip from us and the “pool” got none of it. He probably got a piece of the “pool” too. Good for him!

We’re not new to cruising. We’ve been doing it a long time. This stuff just burns me up. Any notion of what tipping is about is soundly diluted or dissolved by such policies.

George N. Gianoulos

Fresno, CA

In many years of travel, my wife and I have used Grand Circle Travel or the related Overseas Adventure Travel a total of about 12 times, and I have always been embarrassed by the blatant demands for tips and the companies’ tacit involvement in this.

My stance has always been that the company should pay its employees at a rate sufficient to avoid this practice and should not expect its clients to make up the “difference.” If this means that the tour price needs to be higher to accommodate this salary scale, so be it.

The scales suggested by OAT raise the cost quite an amount. After all, if two of you take an 18-day trip, you could be out of pocket $360 for the tour leader, $144 for the driver(s) and about another $30 for local guides — a total of nearly $550!

At the risk of being one of Mr. Smith’s “cheapskates,” I would say that my wife and I each have usually divided these guidelines by two. We just returned from a GCT trip to Italy and figured that if each client kept to the guidelines, the guide would make over $4,000. Since we like to do our own thing when there, we felt this was rather over the top.

We now tend to look for companies which include gratuities in the overall price.

Surely, it must also be an embarrassment for a guide to have to stand at his bus door collecting envelopes. In short, I say drop the whole practice and pay the employees properly!

We met the most invidious example of this practice on a Norwegian Cruise Line ship in 2002, where we were informed that they would be adding $10 per person per day to the onboard account to avoid “tipping.” On that cruise and our next with NCL in early 2003, it was possible to get this amount reduced by being insistent with the purser’s office, where they always produced the question, “Why do you want to reduce this amount? Is the service not up to standard?”

That encouraged us to try NCL again, in July 2003, but by then the charge was mandatory and could not be changed. At no time had this charge been detailed in the cruise line’s literature*. This made the advertised cruise price inaccurate. We gave up. NCL no longer has us as passengers.

For one thing, the $10 per person per day includes the portions of days NCL ships are in harbor, and you know how short disembarkation day is.

This surcharge also removes the passenger’s ability to reward good service. Not every waiter is as good as the other, and we did note on one cruise a maitre d’ who appeared on the final night without ever having been seen before.

If companies are going to add gratuities, let them put it in the price and not ask for tipping.

I am reminded of the old story of the couple who, having booked an amazingly cheap Mediterranean cruise, found that it was on a Roman galley and they had to row all day every day to the insistent beat of a large drum and the ministrations of a man with a whip. Upon their return to Marseilles, totally exhausted, the husband asked his wife, “Should we tip the drummer?”

Christopher Hartley

Ormond Beach, FL

*NCL’s website does state, “A fixed service charge of $10 per person per day will be added to your onboard account.”

I have been reading with some amusement the debate of what is an appropriate tipping strategy for the accompanying guides, local guides, drivers, housekeeping, etc., and the first thing that comes to mind is ‘Aren’t we sweating the small stuff?’

Invariably, near the end of escorted tours, even the ones that give recommended tipping ranges, everyone seems to huddle in their friendship groups that were formed during the course of the tour to see what everyone else is doing in this regard.

What I find to be somewhat ironic is that the amount of the tipping budget is really, in my view, inconsequential to the overall cost of the tour itself (including the tour cost, airfare if not included, meals not covered, optional tours taken during the tour, gifts for the family, etc.).

It seems that, for some, dropping $5,000 to $7,500 — for, let’s assume, a 14-day fully escorted tour, with international coach airfare and the other usual out-of-pocket expenditures mentioned above — is not as big of a deal as parting with $150 to $250 to reward those who facilitated the entire tour while on their watch.

Beyond sweating the small stuff, I would suggest the following.

• Prior to taking the tour, just budget and stash or otherwise come up with a means to allocate and provide a tipping amount, so that when the time comes it is there ready to disburse.

• Personally, I would prefer that the amount be part of the tour cost so that it is already taken care of and I don’t have to deal with it when the time comes. If at the end of the trip I feel that the “service charge” was unwarranted, then I will deal with the tour company when I return.

In any event, I would venture to say that the people who drive us, inform us, arrange things for us and otherwise watch over us are not highly compensated individuals, but they do it for the same reason we took the tour in the first place: the love for travel, adventure and enlightenment.

As the amount we give them is really so small when compared to the overall investment we have made in the experience, I find it difficult to understand why we make such a big deal of it.

Jeffery L Carrier

Naples, FL