To tip or not to tip, that does seem to be the question. More and more businesses are offering the option for customers to add gratuity to their bill, and while most Americans seem to agree that it’s getting out of hand, this isn’t something that will be cleared up anytime in the near future.
While we’ve been trying to navigate the confusion around tipping etiquette in the United States, other countries have their own unspoken attitudes and rules around tipping. This can cause stress for people who are traveling internationally and worry about unintentionally offending the locals because they don’t know what to do when the bill comes.
One of the best ways to educate yourself on a complicated and ever-changing topic like this is to ask the experts, and our network of luxury travel advisors have a lot of experience in this area, both personally and through their clients. We asked some of our GTN members to share some of their best practices around tipping while traveling abroad; here are some of their insights.
Research the Specific Destination
If you are planning to travel to a new-to-you destination, it’s important to do some research into the tipping customs for that destination. While in some places it may just cause confusion if you tip too much, too little, or not at all, in others it may actually be an issue.
One of the best examples that came up is Japan, where tipping is more often considered to be a negative.
Camille Porta of Stonebridge Travel Consulting explained that “tipping is considered rude in Japan and should not be done. It is in their culture to take pride in their work - they believe that you are paying for good service and you do not need to pay them extra.”
Heather Parker of Bliss Travel Experiences added “it confuses people because they don’t know how to politely decline. If you feel the need to tip, you should never give cash in their hand - put it in an envelope and hand it over with two hands.”
Though there are countries like Japan where tipping is frowned upon, it’s mainly just unnecessary in many other places because the gratuity is built into your bill. Some people may politely accept an additional tip, some may refuse the additional money, but overall there isn’t any expectation that you are required to leave more.
Consult the Experts
One of the benefits of working with a travel advisor is that they are a wealth of knowledge about topics like this, and if they don’t have the answers, they know exactly where to find them. Our advisors take the time to educate their travelers before they depart so that they will be prepared.
Dianna Hetzel of Mer Bleue provides her clients with country-specific tipping etiquette. “We go over in more detail how service providers are paid in their country so clients understand what role their tip plays in the service providers salary. Sustainability of the local economy is important to Mer Bleue and our customers. Ultimately, I advise them that they should do what feels good to them and reflects the level of service they were provided.”
Tammy Murphy of VIP Travel Experience shared that in order to give her clients the most accurate and up-to-date information, she goes straight to the Destination Management Company (DMC) and requests a tipping guide from them. Many travel advisors use DMCs because they are location experts and can not only put together an amazing itinerary, but they know all the little things about the destination, including important etiquette rules.
Navigating the Grey Area
One area where the rules are not as black and white, and looking into local customs and traditions won’t help you, is any situation where tipping is expected, but “pre-paid.”
Usually when you travel to an all-inclusive resort or go on a cruise, daily gratuities will be added to your bill for the staff. However, when you see other travelers handing out dollar bills, or find that envelope left in your stateroom by your room steward, it can be confusing as to whether you should be tipping an additional amount.
According to our advisors, the best thing you can do in these situations is to go with your gut. You are not required to leave any additional gratuity, but if you want to do so, go right ahead!
Erica Carr of bookitbox TRAVEL explained that “for resorts where gratuities are included, we highlight that, but let clients know that, as always, if a staff member provides extraordinary service, to feel free to tip additional directly to the team member. We always recommend traveling with small denomination bills to make tipping a breeze!”
Cruises are a bit more complicated, as there are so many different staff members working to give you an amazing experience. Joan Qualls of Tasteful Voyages shared her personal practices when it comes to cruising.
“I always leave a daily tip for my cabin attendant, and I also leave a small cash tip for servers and bartenders. If I use the spa I tip those folks too. And if there’s unique staff person (e.g. concierge in Holland’s Neptune Lounge) I tip them as well. They all work very hard to take care of us!”
At the end of the day, tipping should be a gesture of appreciation for excellent service, and while it's important to adhere to local customs, it should never feel obligatory. It's always best to research and understand the specific practices of the destination you plan to visit. Remember that while tipping may not always be expected, showing gratitude and appreciation through a genuine thank you and acknowledging excellent service is always welcome.