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State says settlement reached with cruise-ship tourism promoters

Richard Mauer

JUNEAU -- The state says it has settled a consumer protection case with promoters who had failed to properly disclose their financial relationships with tourism companies that they pushed to cruise-ship passengers in Alaska.

The Florida-based promotion companies, who themselves pay to operate on cruise ships, agreed that starting this year they would disclose their ties to the companies they promote, said Ed Sniffen, an attorney in the state's consumer protection office. The promoters promised they wouldn't disparage competing businesses in Alaska.

Sniffen said the promoters agreed to record their oral sales pitches and send an unedited copy to the state for monitoring after every cruise. The companies were also put on notice that the state may go undercover to ensure compliance with Alaska law.

The settlement was based on the voter-approved 2006 cruise ship initiative that banned the common practice in which tourism vendors kicked back a fee or commission to promoters aboard cruise ships unless the financial relationship was prominently disclosed. Other provisions of the initiative set a head tax on passengers, required cruise ships to clean their wastewater before dumping it, and set up an Ocean Ranger program to monitor ship compliance with environmental rules.

Sniffen said the on-ship promotion programs began years ago on cruises to the Caribbean and spread to Alaska. They include video sales pitches that are made to cruise passengers in their staterooms.

The settlement decree also bars promoters, called port lecturers, from suggesting that a merchant they are pushing has superior quality material or customer service "unless such representation is supported by verifiable, factual information." And it bars port lecturers from claiming without a factual basis that it's risky or unsafe for a passenger to visit a non-participating merchant at an Alaska port.

The three settlement agreements were signed Monday. They each required a penalty payment to the state: Onboard Media Inc. agreed to pay $75,000; Royal Media Partners LLC agreed to pay $45,000; and Panoff Publishing Inc., PPI Fleet Services Inc., Passenger Promotions International LLC, and PPI Promotions Inc. agreed collectively to pay $90,000.

The agreements said the money be used by the state to further enforce consumer protection laws, including ongoing monitoring of the defendants for compliance.

Reach Richard Mauer at rmauer@adn.com or 257-4345.


By RICHARD MAUER
rmauer@adn.com