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a banner year for Carnival Cruise Lines. The “fun ship” company, as they are called, has had a string of high profile mishaps. In February 2013, the cruise ship Triumph lost power due to an engine room fire. It took tug boats five days to tow the ship back to port. Because there was no power, there was also no air conditioning, no fresh water, or working toilets or hot meals. By the time the ship reached port in Mobile, AL, many of the passengers were sleeping outside as the heat and humidity made the odor inside unbearable. Right on the heels of that incident, another ship, the Dream had a problem with a generator while it was docked in St. Maarten. After many hours, in less than ideal conditions, passengers were flown home. The following week, the Legend, had to be rerouted back to port, as it was having technical issues with its cruising speed. Add on top of all of this, several incidents in which passengers have either jumped or been pushed overboard and it marks a very bad first half of 2013 for the economy cruise line.
Spokespeople for the cruise line have said they handled those situations the best they could and passengers where compensated for the inconveniences. In an article written for PR Daily, a website dedicated to Public Relations, author Michael Sebastian tracked the public relations response to the Triumph incident. He believed that Carnival’s PR team was in front of the crisis and did a pretty good job of keeping people informed. As guests disembarked from the ship in Mobile, AL, CEO Garry Cahill apologized over the PA system and issued the following statement, posted to Carnival’s Facebook page:
First, I'd like to start with saying how very thankful we all are that the ship is alongside and everyone is safe. I am so appreciative of the efforts of everyone involved in bringing the Carnival Triumph safely to the Port of Mobile. I want to thank the United States Coast Guard, The Port and City of Mobile, Customs and Border Protection, and the countless other parties who have been incredibly helpful throughout. I’d also like to thank our shore side teams for working around the clock to make this happen. And finally, I want to thank our crew for all they have done. We have seen and heard so many reports, online and in the media, from passengers praising the crew’s hard work. I am now going onboard to talk with our guests and crew, as well as to help with getting our guests off the ship and on their way home. Thank you. While issuing that statement and keeping people updated about the crisis on Facebook and Twitter is a good thing, and having the CEO personally speak to guests is a step in the right direction, with the other incidents starting to pile up; what does Carnival have to do to reclaim the ground lost during the first half of this year? Toward the end of March, Carnival announced plans that it would initiate a “fleet wide assessment” and expects fixes to be made through 2014. However, the company was not specific as to what kind of fixes will be made and how it plans to prevent similar issues like the ones suffered earlier this year. The bad press doesn’t stop at just the mechanical problems on board the ships. Passengers do not feel as though they have been compensated appropriately. Passengers aboard the Triumph received a refund, credit for a future cruise, a $500 refund, and a personal phone call. Carnival Dream passengers received a three day refund and 50% discount on a future 2-7 day cruise. Finally, guests aboard the Carnival Legend received a $100 credit.
Although the public relations department may have done a good job in relaying information to passengers and family members during these crises, there is more to crisis management then just providing information and a refund. Once the crisis is over, the PR team has the larger task
of ensuring the proper message is being disseminated through the media. The worst thing that can happen is the PR team telling one story and passengers telling another story. That is what was happening to Carnival. Passengers are contradicting the narrative which the cruise line wants to tell. And that is a big problem. In order for Carnival to regain its standing, the company, more specifically, the PR team must do more for its affected passengers, show it has learned valuable lessons, and reveal details on how it will prevent these problems from happening again. A good PR team will be proactive and not wait for the next crisis.
Alexander Englander earned his Master’s Degree in Communications from The College of Saint Rose, runs a blog, Words Have Consequences and lives in Pawtucket, RI with his fiancé and their four cats. You can follow him on Twitter @PRGradStudent.