When it comes to cruise lines throughout the world, there is theoretically one thing that may damage reputation more than almost anything else: crisis management in a time of need. Reputation is the most powerful thing a cruise line-and inevitably the actual ships themselves-have, linking it to general like or dislike from the public and in turn future revenues.
Looking at one cruise line in particular, Carnival, it seems the reputation has been been severely damaged in the eyes of the public over the two most recent ships that have been through perilous times, all while there seems to be a severe lack of crisis management involved.
Only going off of what the media has led me to believe, the first was in January 2012 with the Costa Concordia. This cruise ship hit a boulder near the coast of Tuscany, Italy, which eventually causes the ship to capsize and result in the loss of 32 lives. To make matters worse the captain, Francesco Schettino, abandoned ship in the time of need. This goes against all law of sea sailing, dating back to Medieval times. A shipwreck and story of this magnitude dominated the international press for weeks afterward.
Public outcry was at its finest. Not only did the cruise ship do down and it was a frightening experience for the passengers, but 32 people lost its lives and the captain abandoned ship. How did Carnival handle this situation publicly? CEO Micky Arison expressed his deepest condolences while safely aboard his luxury yacht in Miami. After this, many different carefully comprised corporate PR statements went out, but Arison and the board of directors did not make a public appearance at the scene of the crime. One week after the disaster one board member finally did make it to Italy, but was never seen at the site. He stayed in Genoa, where the Costa company’s headquarters are located.
In the mind of PR professionals, Carnival did all the wrong things. However, the cruise line did do one thing correctly. Immediately after the disaster Carnival said that it would pay Captain Schettinos legal wages for the incident, but later dropped that claim.
Lets look to the present. In early 2013, the Carnival Cruise Ship Triumph had an engine fire, which caused the ship to go without power. This in turn caused numerous other issues, including sewage leakage and lack of food. Many reports of the survivors accounts claim that the crew were wonderful and that the management were not. However, the actions of the crew members could not account for the actions of the management. The media capsized on the negative aspects and not on the more positive way the crew members reacted.
Carnival may now understand that it may control what the corporate office says to the media about relations, but it cannot control what passengers cell phones show, or how they communicate to the public. It also needs to understand that in a relatively dull week of news, the media will bring drama on every event of a tragedy. Carnival has learned more about crisis management from the Costa Concordia, however, it still needs to get its act together in case another destruction happens in the future.