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November 2016    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 31, No. 11   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Skimming the Tip Pool

possible pitfalls of group gratuities

from the November, 2016 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

British property billionaire Godfrey Bradman liked to tip upfront, saying do a good job, and there's the same again at the end. More often than not, the people he tipped took the money first proffered and disappeared from view, so it didn't always work.

The various cultures regarding tipping have been dealt with in Undercurrent from time to time, but a subscriber, who remains anonymous for obvious reasons (we'll call her Helen), wrote to us, concerned about the possibility of the group leader or organizer skimming the pooled tips. They collect the money, but the amount and the way they distribute it is often not disclosed.

She tells us she's used to traveling in a group of up to 40 people, and this results in a pooled tip amounting to as much as $8000. Is this too much?

She wrote, "There is recent suspicion of skimming from the tip pool. Although unverified, my own inquiry has found discrepancies. For example, pre-trip we were reminded about the group tip and the need for this, as it helps support back-ofthe- house staff at the resort, their Christmas fund, etc. While we were there, the resort was asked about tipping, and their response was, no need for additional tipping of the resort staff [since] a tip/ service amount is included in the package rate. We had no idea. The dive shop is totally separate and should be tipped accordingly."

Different countries have different customs. Hospitality workers in territories that are governed by European (EU) laws (e.g., Bonaire and the Dutch Antilles) are paid at least a statutory minimum wage and expected to give good service regardless, whereas those who work "American-style" often rely on tips to make ends meet. That is why you might find a European passenger swooning in their cabin when it is suggested they pay an additional ten percent of the price as a crew tip.

Americans have become so accustomed to tipping that we're being asked everywhere, and when we travel we can't but help giving away money, but it's often too much. While it's usually encouraged by American travel agents, we seriously doubt that pooled tips always get to the right people.

Helen continued, "It's unclear how many other travelers with the group have suspicions about the pooled tip. I have not said anything, as the total pooled amount can't be verified, or whether it was properly distributed. However, for me, there is huge doubt."

One thing about tip pools, while some people are over-generous, others border on miserly, and a pooled tip disguises their tight-fistedness.

Another Undercurrent subscriber (we'll call him Jim) told how, "During one of our trips we were cautioned about going in with the group on tips.  There was a question about the trip organizers skimming from the top, who apparently thought they should be included in the tips even though they received free room and dive packages for their efforts.  After we heard that, we have always tipped directly to the crew or staff ourselves."

Some liveaboard captains do take the lion's share of the crew's tip when the aggregated tip is huge. While workers should be compensated well, how far up the ladder should tips go? We don't think captains and cruise directors should benefit from the tipping pool.

If you want to be sure that the right people get your money, ignore the tipping pool and take care of tip distribution yourself. However, bear in mind that many staff whose work is essential to the success of your vacation may be out of sight, and you may not be aware of who they are. And keep in mind the local cost of living. It's relatively easy to find out locally what constitutes an acceptable amount.

While we encourage divers to be fair, even generous, there's a dark side to over-tipping. Once, in Istanbul, I was so pleased with the efforts of a shoeshine boy in renovating my beaten-up shoes outside the Blue Mosque, I gave him a $20 bill. His eyes widened with amazement before he grabbed it and ran for his life, followed closely by all the other shoeshine boys determined to take it from him. He lost the money and received a severe beating instead. So much for my less-than-clever generosity.

The best advice is to follow local custom. In some countries, the offer of a tip might be considered offensive, whereas in others it might form an essential part of a person's income. The local cost of living ought to determine the proper way of saying thank you for good service. Do your homework first. A good travel agent or tour operator will advise you about what sort of tips are expected before you book so you arrive prepared.

- John Bantin

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