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New rules in effect for ship shopping guides

Posted: August 25, 2013 - 12:12am

JUNEAU — Shopping guides aboard cruise ships that come to Alaska have new rules to abide by, following complaints that they were misleading passengers and smearing local stores.

The state earlier this year agreed to a $200,000 settlement with the three Florida-based companies that put port lecturers on Alaska cruise ships, Onboard Media, Royal Media Partners and the PPI Group. The companies run shopping programs and pay cruise lines to have their employees — known as “port lecturers” — on board the ship, APRN reported. As part of the settlement, the companies did not have to admit any wrongdoing, but they did have to start requiring that port lecturers disclose they didn’t work for cruise lines and are engaged in advertising.

The agreement also barred them from bashing stores that don’t participate in the program or making misleading statements about sale prices and return policies.

Ed Sniffen, an assistant state attorney general who handles consumer protection issues, said local businesses had been upset, and passengers also were complaining that they were being ripped off.

“’Hey, I bought this diamond at this shop, and they told me that it was a two-karat something, and I paid $20,000 for it. When I got it back home and had it appraised, it was really only worth $5,000.’ You know, some of those kinds of things,” he said.

Though port lecturers are found on cruises around the world, Alaska is the first place to crack down on their employers.

None of the major cruise lines that operate in Alaska responded to emails from APRN asking about their relationships with port lecturers. Royal Media Partners and the PPI Group also did not respond. Noelle Sipos, a spokeswoman with Onboard Media, told APRN in an email that the settlement “simply formalized policies that Onboard Media has always followed.” She said the company is complying with all Alaska rules, but not applying those elsewhere.

The state attorney general’s office is reviewing about 70 recordings of port lecturers in action. Sniffen said things aren’t suddenly perfect, but most of the response so far — since the new rules have taken effect — has been good.

“What we’re hearing is that generally things are better. That things have gotten a little cleaner,” he said. “Passengers aren’t saying the things that they used to say.”

Cindy Dollar was given a shopping map, coupons and a tote bag before getting off her cruise ship. The tourist from Texas said there’s constant pressure to spend.

“I mean, if you let yourself, you can be barraged with the whole shopping experience on the ship,” she said.

It appeared to her that port lecturers are following state rules, putting disclaimers on promotional materials, and reading from scripts that describe their presentations as marketing.

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