Will Carnival’s disaster sink the cruise industry?


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Chances are, unless you live in a cave (or your mom’s basement without Internet), you’ve been inundated with news reports, pictures and tweets about the five-day mishap of the Carnival cruise ship Triumph, which was left dead in the water in the Gulf of Mexico thanks to an engine fire which not only crippled the ship, but knocked out all the systems that serve the 3,000 passenger ship.


Thanks to social media and wall-to-wall coverage by CNN, seemingly no one has failed to hear about the “cruise from hell,” complete with tails of raw sewage running down cabin walls, no air conditioning, rotting food. and passengers pooping in plastic bags.

The visuals of the crippled ship limping back to port with the assistance of tiny tug boats painted a picture not only of helpless passengers and crew, but also of an inept and aloof cruise company. And perhaps of an industry that’s on the precipice of hard times.

While Carnival conducted the expected “crisis management” real-time public relations, in my view, it didn’t help itself at all in the eyes of the media and general public. While its spokespeople were readily available with management-approved blurbs, the cruise line came off as not trying to make the conditions on the ship any better. No airlifts of food and supplies. No drop of a mechanical crew onto the ship to attempt to revive its power plant. No airlifting the most vulnerable passengers to safety. Even if such efforts resulted in only minor improvements, at least it would show Carnival was doing something.

Instead, Carnival is offering every passenger $500, a flight home, a full refund on their booking on the Triumph, a credit for a future cruise and reimbursement for most of their onboard purchases. The company has also secured hotel rooms in Mobile for family members of people stranded on the ship.

As Matt Foley (as played by the great Chris Farley) would say, “Whoopty-freakin’-do.”

Between the news footage and the tweets, texts and photos sent by passengers as they got within cell range, the media, families and friends saw first-hand what happens when a cruise ship goes all third world.

“You have 3,100 people on that ship telling their family and friends they’re never going on a cruise again, you have tweets and photos coming out now, and you have a freakin’ CNN helicopter overhead. You think that’s not going to resonate?” wrote travel author Jason Clampet on his travel website skift.com.

This episode, combined with the grounding of Costa Cruises’ Italian cruise ship a few years back, has made cruising seem less like “Love Boat” and more like “The Poseidon Adventure.” (Interestingly, Costa is owned by Carnival.) Care-free cruise? Looks more like a floating tent city to me. Suddenly, a week in Vegas or Hawaii seems way more appealing.

What can the industry do to rebound from this episode? It’s going to be a long, steep climb, for sure. The first thing I would do as a cruise line would set out to show “We’re no Carnival.” This would mean doing more than showing folks in bikinis surfing on deck or eating a lobster the size of your head. What potential cruisers need at this moment is reassurance. Speak transparently of what your cruise line does in the way of safety, training and track record. Let your most passionate customers tell their own stories in their own voices. Even folks who start out “I was a little anxious at first, but then…” Real people can relate to this.

In these days of social media and “citizen journalism,” it’s not enough for an organization to SAY the right things. It needs to DO the right things. And Carnival appeared to do little more than sit on their hands during this unfortunate episode.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Mickey Lonchar
Mickey Lonchar has spent the better part of two decades creating award-winning advertising with agencies up and down the West Coast, Mickey currently holds the position of creative director with Quisenberry Marketing & Design, a full-service advertising and interactive shop with offices in Spokane and Seattle, Wash.


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