Carnival Cruise is in trouble again. This time having to fly passengers home from the Caribbean because the ship can’t sail from port. More stories of human waste in the hallways of a luxury liner.
I was asked for my thoughts on this problem and how it relates to the entire industry by PR Daily, and here’s what I submitted:
As you suggest its not just Carnival that is being hurt by these unfortunate events. I read recently of a reputation survey that showed all the major cruise lines were suffering from significant drops in trust metrics. There’s an old saying “bad things come in threes” and Carnival can hope that the Costa Concordia event counts in that three and they are done now. I suspect not because one of the interesting aspects of this kind of problem is that Carnival will be under increased media and regulatory scrutiny for some time. So, for that matter, will all other cruise lines. And that means that even minor hiccups that normally would not come to the attention of the media will receive major coverage. And that means that trust will further be eroded.
Let me give an example. BP suffered a series of events that drew major media attention including the to be expected questions about their safety culture. These included the Alaska pipeline corrosion issues and then the Texas City refinery explosion. Any other event happening to BP following that kind of attention would have received major focus (of course, the April 2010 oil spill did and it would have even it happened to another company because of the scope.) But in February 2010 another lesser known refinery company experienced a devastating accident with seven fatalities. it received very little national media attention. In that time period if BP had had even a small accident with injuries let alone fatalities, the media focus would have been very significant. For Carnival, it is one plus one equals six. And it will be even worse if/when the next thing happens, even something minor.
The fact is, cruising is an increasingly popular activity for millions. My parents have been on nearly 50 cruises on many different cruise lines and we have enjoyed several of them with them. No doubt these events and the major coverage they receive will give a lot of people pause. But for most the good memories will overcome the increasing fears. I do believe these events will cause a measurable decrease in cruising in the short term. But the industry will recover.
I think the big lesson for others watching this is that this is not just Carnival’s problem. It may very well be devastating, possibly even fatal, to Carnival. The brand is seriously tainted. But this is an industry-wide problem and one the industry as a whole needs to address from a public confidence standpoint. I suspect the industry is already working on ways to recover public confidence. If I were advising them (which I’m not) I’d suggest the cruise industry association, assuming there is one, announce in the not too distant future and new inspection standard that is more rigorous than any regulatory standard. That it offer a sort of Good Housekeeping seal to those ships that pass the test. This in addition to a pretty aggressive promotion campaign aimed at reminding people who cruise of the wonderful memories created.
Time does heal most wounds, and this serious wound to the industry is recoverable. The future of cruising is beyond Carnival’s control–they can hurt it more by poor communications, but they can’t do much to help it. the industry needs to work together to restore confidence, and then let time do its healing work.