Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Paper Docs vs. E-Docs

As most "cruisers" know, the cruise lines have started issuing e-docs instead of the paper documents they have used for years. On cruise related boards such as Cruise Critic, within our agent community in our company, and with questions we've received from our clients, this gave me a topic for today's posting.

Let's take one thing and clear it up in the beginning. Although they all say a main reason is to "GO Green", and although this is something that is a good thing to do and we should all be concerned with the environment, it's really about $$$$$!

It has been a tremendous expense for the cruise lines in preparing documents and then sending them to an agency who in turn sends them out to the client. Most "seasoned" cruisers don't read all that stuff anyway. They already know the itinerary, they know their cabin number and they know the routine of the cruise experience. Seasoned cruisers just need the boarding pass, the luggage tags and the excursion book.

Since all the cruise lines have the pre-registration process which is done online in place anyway, the customer can print their boarding pass as soon as they do their required online registration and that's all they really need at the port. They can also print out the passenger contract at the same time if they really want to read all that mumble jumble.

The luggage tags are another thing. Yes, you can always get them from the porters at the port and take a minute to write your name and cabin number on it and we have done that many times ourselves in the past. It's not that difficult. Is it maybe more convenient to have them ahead of time? Sure, just a little anyway. Should one let this oh so small inconvenience ruin their trip? If it does, they really needed a vacation and having these tags ahead of time will not really change their attitude.

But, here are some of the advantages to e-docs (IMHO):

First, you get your documents and boarding pass much earlier! No more panic 7 days before the time to leave trying to find the docs. (Our company processes thousands of sets of documents each month and of course had to wait until the cruise line sent to us, have them verified, and then process to ship out in sail date order even if we had them in house, those sailing first had to have theirs sent out first.

You don't have to figure out what you need to bring and what you don't from that booklet. The boarding pass and your citizenship documents (passport or driver's license/birth certificate) is all you really need anyway.

The cruise lines have the excursions information online and you can pre-reserve when you are doing your registration anyway. Most are still sending pre-cruise packages out anyway with the excursion booklet and the luggage tags if they are totally e-docs (such as Princess and Norwegian) and other cruise lines will send paper docs if requested and still some are totally regular docs we were used to.

If you don't have a computer, you can ask your agent to do the pre-cruise registration for you and it can be done over the phone, they can print the things out that you need and mail it to you. If they are not willing to do this, FIND ANOTHER AGENT - they or the company they work for do not deserve your business or to make the commission on the booking which is really paid for providing the service the consumer deserves if they will not provide it!

You avoid the "change fees" after the documents have been issued. You can change something (or your agent may have to - again the benefits of using a professional as your agent - and reprint them at no cost (ok, a little toner and paper). Can't find them when it's time to go? Go in and reprint them at no cost.

No one really liked e-docs when the airlines went to them years ago and now, you hardly ever see paper tickets except in some exotic overseas locations where they are still required. You want paper tickets, you pay a fee for that. I expect in the not so distant future the cruise lines will charge a fee for paper docs also.

It's a different world today than 50, 40, 30, or even 5 years ago. Technology gives great benefits to the consumer and to businesses to service the consumer in a more cost effective and timely ways. E-docs , to me stands for Efficient, not electronic. It's what is so we need to accept it and take advantage of it and not worry about it.


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