The UK’s truth-in-advertising watchdog agency has directed Royal Caribbean to alter the language in an itinerary description it says is misleading to prospective cruisers.
The case involved a complaint filed against the cruise line for indicating a cruise would depart from or call at Venice, when the destination was actually Ravenna, some two hours drive away.
Royal Caribbean Told to Differentiate Venice, Ravenna
Royal Caribbean got a slap on the wrist for its practice of using the phrase “Venice (Ravenna)” when describing the location of a departure port in Italy, and misleading cruisers into thinking Ravenna is a port in Venice.
The October 25, 2023 ruling by the London-based Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) stemmed from a complaint it received in May 2023 about an itinerary description that appeared on its website.
The cruise line has already removed the Venice reference from itineraries that depart from or call at Ravenna. Although it is not clear when the change was made, it appears likely that the ASA’s investigation prompted the rewording.
“The ad must not appear in the form complained of. We told Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd to ensure ads made clear where cruises departed from, and not to misleadingly imply a cruise departed from or visited a particular place if that was not the case,” the Advertising Standards Authority wrote in its ruling.
The itinerary that spurred the complaint was a 7-night Italy, Greece & Croatia cruise, described as “Leaving from: Venice (Ravenna), Italy” and “Visiting: Venice (Ravenna), Italy,” along with other port calls.
Royal Caribbean’s current description of a 2024 Greece & Croatia cruise aboard Explorer of the Seas, for instance, now reads: “Roundtrip from Ravenna, Italy,” with no mention of Venice, which is roughly 90 miles north.
In its assessment, the ASA noted that Royal Caribbean used similar location qualifiers in other parts of the advertisement, such as the description of a port call in Sicily on the same itinerary. The ad indicated the port was “Sicily (Messina),” and since Messina is in Sicily, the ASA believes that consumers would apply the same logic to Venice (Ravenna), and assume that Ravenna is a port in Venice.
Cruise Line Points to Venice Ban on Large Ships
In its response to the ASA, Royal Caribbean noted that large cruise ships no longer are allowed to dock in the historic city center of Venice, and must use alternate ports.
Due to environmental and other concerns, Venice in 2021 banned ships over 25,000-gross tons from accessing the city center, sending them instead to nearby Porto Marghera or other ports farther afield, like Ravenna or Trieste. The presence of cruise ships in Venice has been controversial for years. An earlier ban, in 2017, was proposed for ships over 100,000 gross tons, but was on hold while a new cruise terminal was built.
Royal Caribbean told the ASA that using Ravenna as a qualifier in the description of Venice was sufficient to clarify that a ship would actually depart from or visit Ravenna, and not Venice. The line added that such qualifiers are commonly used across the travel industry.
In its ruling, the ASA pointed out that Royal Caribbean’s explanation for using the misleading phrase included the fact that most of its guests hailed from the US and were familiar with Venice but not Ravenna. Without Venice prominently mentioned, travelers would be less likely to book the cruise.
Royal Caribbean also had proposed reversing the qualifier, to read “Ravenna (Venice),” but the ASA determined it would still be misleading.
The cruise line agreed “there was a potential for consumer confusion,” but pointed out that it offers “sufficient information” about the departure port and itinerary before prospective guests reach the booking stage. The ASA did not agree.
Currently, Royal Caribbean’s Italy itineraries that are advertised on its website and include Ravenna point to the city’s eight UNESCO World Heritage sites and other attractions. It also states that Venice “is just over two hours away by car, putting one of Italy’s star destinations well within reach.”