Controlling the Images: How Royal Caribbean Handles PR During Cruise Ship Fires

Royal Caribbean Cruise PRPR News recently published an interesting article about how Royal Caribbean Cruises successfully handled its public relations image during the 2013 fire aboard the Grandeur of the Seas. Titled How Royal Caribbean Controls the Message During a Crisis, the article explains how the cruise line effectively controlled the narrative when the Grandeur caught on fire while cruising to Nassau.

PR Success: Immediately after the fire, Royal Caribbean quickly flew its president and a professional photographer to the port and tweeted photos of the cruise CEO interacting with guests "so that journalists would use those photos instead of a guest’s."

I mentioned this effective PR move in an article which I posted shortly after the fire titled Where Are Photo & Video Images of the Fire on the Grandeur of the Seas?  I commented on Royal Caribbean's new and improved PR efforts, but pointed out that the cruise line released more photos of the cruise CEO having tea with passengers after the fire than of the damage to the ship. 

A video report by ABC News helped to explain why there were no videos or photographs because the cruise ship's crew stopped passengers from taking images of the fire and chaos. Passenger Carrie royal Caribbean Cruise PRMcTigue told ABC News that "even when people put their cameras up to photograph the sunrise, they were told, 'no photos.'"

PR Disasters: But Royal Caribbean has not always been able to control the images shown to the public when its cruise ships catch on fire. In July 2015, the Freedom of the Seas caught on fire. When we learned that the Freedom was on fire while heading to port in Falmouth, Jamaica, we asked a former client who lives near the port to video the fire. He videotaped the ship coming into port, billowing a huge amount of smoke. We immediately posted the video, on our Facebook page, which was viewed by over a million people within two days. We also posted the video on this blog with other images of the fire and the passengers mustering to prepare to abandon the fire-stricken ship.

So when Royal Caribbean tried to spin the story, with a misleading statement by its CEO that the fire was allegedly "small and quickly extinguished," the public could make their own assessment regarding the size and ferocity of the fire. All of the major networks (ABC, CBS and NBC) carried the video on their news programs and the international media included the video on their multi-media presentations.

The public was left with the impression that the cruise line was either completely out-of-touch with the danger posed to its guests or that it deliberately fabricated a falsehood to masquerade as the truth, which I suggested in the Royal Caribbean "Small Fire" Hoax.

Royal Caribbean also caused a public uproar after it sailed the Anthem of the Seas into a well publicized storm last year. Royal Caribbean's PR people tried to say that the storm was "unforeseeable" but weather professionals didn't buy it. They ripped the cruise line for routing the cruise ship directly into the storm. Read the Washington Post's 4,000-passenger cruise ship inexplicably sails into Atlantic mega-storm. Weather experts accurately predicted the Atlantic seas out of New Jersey to be over 30 feet high with winds of hurricane strength, but the Anthem nonetheless recklessly sailed into theRoyal Caribbean Cruise PR storm, terrorizing thousands of passengers and burning out the clutches of its azipods in the process. The Anthem returned to port in New Jersey with only one propulsion unit operating.

Royal Caribbean initially denied any damage or injury to the ship or the passengers and then falsely claimed that the only damage to the ship was "cosmetic." Al Roker, the popular television weatherman on the Today Show, best summed up Royal Caribbean's claim that the storm was not predicted: "Royal Caribbean's claim that this was not predicted is bullfeathers."  USA TODAY chimed in with "Meteorologists: Royal Caribbean blew it on sailing into storm."

Practice Makes Perfect?  The director of the cruise line's corporate communications, Cynthia Martinez, was quoted in the PR article as saying that that the company often "practices roundtable discussions of how to handle an issue, and sometimes they practice writing tweets and press releases for specific situations." So the next time that a Royal Caribbean ship catches on fire or sails into a storm, remember that what you may be seeing from this cruise line is what it wants you to believe rather than the reality of what actually occurred or - as Al Roker said - "bullfeathers."

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Freedom of the Seas Fire: A Word From Your Captain

The captain of the Freedom of the Seas, Captain Ron Holmes, I am told by crew members is a good man. He is well liked and respected by the crew, from what the shipboard employees tell me.

After the fire, Captain Holmes, via a closed circuit television loop, explains to the passengers what just happened. He is obviously not reading from a script.

Captain Holmes says that the fire erupted from what he describes as the engine spaces. It spread, he says, from the bottom of the ship to the top, above the Viking Crown lounge via an exhaust stack through the ship. He says that the crew had to fight the fire in what he says are "multiple parts" of the ship. He says that due to the sparks and hot spots, it took around an hour to completely extinguish the fire.

He appears to be forthcoming and honest to me.       

His video is in stark contrast to the information which Royal Caribbean disclosed to the media and the misleading letter which the cruise line CEO Bayley sent to the crew members. The PR department and cruise executive said that the fire was allegedly "small" and contained in the ship's mechanical spaces, which are obviously untrue.   

Royal Caribbean can't seem to help itself. Its shore-side PR team was so quick to spin the story that it directly contradicted what the good captain was telling the passengers. Captain Holmes makes an earnest appearance, in my assessment. The cruise line's PR department should have just uploaded the captain's brief explanation to YouTube, rather than try and bamboozle the public. This is a cruise line which lies when the truth would do it better.  

 Video Credit: Michael Alden

SeaWorld's Chief Financial Officer Joins Carnival Cruise Line

Orcas SeaWorldA number of news sources report that SeaWorld's Chief Financial Officer (CFO), James Heaney, will be joining Carnival Cruise Line as CFO next month. Mr. Heaney worked at SeaWorld since 2011.

As the movie Blackfish reveals, SeaWorld profits by forcing captive orcas, which swim a hundred miles a day in the wild, to entertain tourists. The orcas spend the majority of their lives virtually motionless in concrete tanks that are the human equivalent of a bathtub until their dorsal fins collapse. Have you read of the plight of Tilikum?

I responded to the news on Facebook with a single comment: "ugh." Here's how readers of our Cruise Law News Facebook page reacted:

  • Now they can identify the marine mammals stuck on the bow of their ships.
  • Going from a company that is sinking to a company that runs ships is not a good combination.
  • Bad business ... Carnival is the worse, low quality company I've ever know.

Before SeaWorld, Mr. Heaney worked at Disney Cruise Line for 17 years. 

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Bahamas Crime Watch: How Do You Manage a Country's Reputation With Stories Like These?

News accounts of violent crime against both tourists and residents in the Bahamas continue to be regularly published in the international and local press. 

David Jessop, the Managing Director of the Caribbean Council, has written insightful articles this year regarding the damage to the image of the Bahamas caused by articles in social media regarding such crime. He states that that the Bahamas, like other Caribbean islands, doesn't have the social media skills necessary to promptly and effectively minimize damage to the country's reputation when tourists become victims of violent criminal acts. I suggest reading his articles: Social Media and Managing Mitchell Nini Crime BahamasReputation published in January, and Reputational Damage published a few days ago in the Bahamas Tribune.

But how does the Bahamas manage its reputation when its newspapers are regularly filled with gruesome stories of violence virtually every day?

On April 30th the local newspapers in the Bahamas reported that a jury acquitted three Bahamian men in their 20's of the "near-fatal stabbing" of a Canadian tourist, Mitchell Nini. Mr. Nini was stabbed 7 times in the chest, back and stomach when the thugs robbed a gold chain from Mr. Nini's friend. 

I have written before that tourists injured during violent crimes in Nassau cannot find justice in the archaic Bahamian legal system, although the Bahamian tourist police seem effective in boarding cruise ships at the wharf and arresting U.S. citizens for small amounts of pot

I first learned of the acquittal of Mr. Nini's attackers when his friends and family posted the news of the acquittal on Facebook and Twitter.  The articles posted by his mother on Twitter indicate that the three men confessed to the crime but later claimed that the police beat them into signing the confessions. 

The Canadian press published New Brunswick Man Warns of Traveling After Being Stabbed in Bahamas. The newspaper article shows a photo of Mr. Nini recovering from the vicious attack in the hospital while saying that tourists should stay clear of the island. He told the Global News "Whether you feel like you’re safe on the resort, as soon as you step off the resort you’re in a war zone.”

Mr. Nini's reference to a "war" is appropriate.

Bahamian Prime Minister Perrie Christie told that Tribune newspaper last week that the government is "developing new crime fighting strategies to win the 'war' that they are fighting against the 'hostile young men' in the capital."

Meanwhile, Democratic National Alliance (DNA) leader Branville McCartney made the news stating that he does not feel safe given the ongoing scourge of crime in the Bahamas. He told the Tribune “I don’t feel safe in this country . . . We live in paradise, but we are paralysed by fear. We are in prison in our own homes because of the criminal element running amuck in this country.”

There is good reason for even the politicians to be afraid of crime in Nassau. In December, the Acting Prime Minister Philip Davis was robbed at gunpoint. Then in January a police officer assigned to guard a residence of the Prime Minister Christie was arrested on suspicion of stealing a television at the residence. The latter is a petty crime I know, but you have to shake your head when the bad guys are bold enough to stick up the Acting Prime Minister and the police are stealing from the Prime Minister.

What's the response from the Bahamas to these and many other stories about trouble in paradise?  I have received many comments from the citizens of the Bahamas chastising me for suggesting that the out-of-control crime in Nassau also exists throughout the many islands which make up the country. But there are too many stories about crime against tourists outside of Nassau as well.

Last month Edgar George Dart, a 56-year-old British citizen who lived in Canada, was shot and killed and slowly died in front of his family after three masked intruders burst into his mother's home in Freeport. And a 14 year-old U.S. girl was raped on one of the out islands just ten days ago.   

Violent crime is a part of life in Nassau. Dangerous young men with knives and guns are menacing the residents and tourists alike. Do the families on Carnival, Disney and Royal Caribbean cruise ships know that a war is raging in Nassau and even the top politicians in the Bahamas are afraid of crime and have been victimized themselves? How can a country even attempt to manage its reputation as a paradise for tourists when the local residents are paralyzed by fear? 

Watch the video of Mr. Nini below: 

Consider reading: Bahamas Responds to Making the List of Top 10 Most Dangerous Cruise Destinations: "The Bahamas Is Safe"

Bahamas Weekly: The Bahamas - Still Paralyzed by Fear: "Over the past two weeks, newspaper headlines have recounted horrific stories of violence, murder and mayhem which have gripped communities here in New Providence and on Grand Bahama Island; cementing crime and the fear of crime as one of the country’s most pressing national issues."

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Photo Credit: Global News

Harris Poll Reveals a Lack of Confidence in Reliability & Safety of Cruise Industry

A Harris Poll released today reveals that the public has a lack of confidence in the reliability and safety of the cruise lines. Although the cruise industry was improving the public's perception of cruising, the numerous norovirus outbreaks aboard cruise line ships this year seem to have "effectively stolen the wind from the industry's collective sails." 

Just this week, the Princess Cruises' Crown Princess experienced a norovirus outbreak. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced six prior gastrointestinal outbreaks this year. That's 7 so far this year, compared to 9 all of last year. The public is questioning the cruise lines' usual excuse that it is always the passengers' fault for not washing their hands, as there is evidence Cruise Ship Norovirusthat many crew members work while ill in violation of the CDC protocols.

The Harris Poll reveals that the public's perceptions of "quality," "trust" and "purchase intent" are still below the scores before the Triumph debacle last year. 

"We've all heard the saying that a rising tide lifts all boats," says Deana Percassi, Vice President and Public Relations Research Consultant with Nielsen, "but the inverse also holds true. In a field as crowded as the cruise industry, bad press for a small handful of brands – or even a single one – can have negative repercussions for major players across the board."

Americans continue to have more favorable attitudes toward air travel than toward cruises. Roughly six in ten think that air travel is much more reliable than taking cruises and a majority agree that air travel is much safer than taking cruises.

A majority of Americans also agree that they're less likely to take a cruise now than they were a year ago. 

The cruise industry has also been rocked this year with a scandal that MSC Cruises has been dumping garbage bags at sea and have been exploiting its crew to the point that the police in Brazil had to raid a MSC cruise ship. Just this week, NCL decided to pull its cruise ships from Roatan following armed robbery of cruise passengers and the murder of a NCL crew member.

Last year, the cruise industry attacked the Harris Poll, accusing it of being "unscientific," "unreliable" and "flawed." The cruise lines, especially the trade group Cruise Line International Association ("CLIA"), always say this when there are unfavorable reports criticizing the cruise industry. It tries to discount its annual failed environmental cruise ship scores by the Friends of the Earth in this way too. Last week, CLIA said that it was "disappointed" by a study criticizing it for abusing crew members and the environment. It said the report was "unscientific" and "flawed."

Expect a similar statement from the spin masters at CLIA about the latest critical Harris Poll.  

Royal PR #FAIL: Royal Caribbean Keeps Adventure & Navigator Passengers in the Dark

This weekend saw the epic failure of Royal Caribbean's corporate communications department after two of its cruise ships, the Adventure of the Seas and the Navigator of the Seas, encountered difficulties returning to their respective ports. 

The Adventure of the Seas encountered propulsion problems last week and, eventually, a total failure on Saturday night, after the cruise ship's "fixipod" leaked oil and the ship lost propulsion. The ship limped back to San Juan on Sunday with great uncertainty whether it could possibly be repaired in time for it to sail. The ship is scheduled for a drydock at the end of the month, but it appears that Royal Caribbean decided to try and do a quick-fix of the damaged "fixipod" and squeeze in one more cruise to avoid having to refund their several thousands of passengers millions of dollars in refunds. Families Port of Galveston - Navigator of the Seas - Oil Spillwho had flown to San Juan to board the Adventure were not told of the propulsion issues and found themselves standing in a long line in the hot sun while the cruise line's public relations department said nothing. As of this morning (Monday), the ship has still not sailed.

While the Adventure of the Seas saga was unfolding, the Navigator of the Seas was delayed returning to port by an oil spill caused by a collision between a ship and a barge. Families who had driven and flown into Houston to make the cruise where not advised of the oil spill or the delay embarking the ship while the Royal Caribbean department remained quite. Meanwhile the Carnival PR department was routinely posting updates on Twitter and Facebook about the problem which its ship, the Magic, faced with the oil spill. Carnival maintained a centralized "Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)" on its website.  It timely notified its guests that the cruise aboard the Carnival Magic would be delayed until Monday and that they should locate a hotel and get a good night's sleep. 

By early Sunday afternoon, the Royal Caribbean passengers began openly complaining on Twitter and Facebook about the cruise line's refusal to keep them up to date. A public relations nightmare was unfolding.

Numerous passengers and family members began bitterly complaining that Royal Caribbean was not notifying them via email, test messaging or telephone, and the cruise line was not utilizing its Twitter or Facebook feeds. Royal Caribbean has a public relations account of Twitter, called @RoyalCaribPR, San Juan Long Lines Adventure of the Seasbut it had remained silent for the psst 48 hours. People calling the cruise line were placed on hold, or the service representatives didn't know what was going on. It was as if the entire customer relations department has outsourced to a distant village in India. 

The passengers in San Juan were congregating in long lines in the hot son without water or food (photo left, via @_DanielnPearson). There was reportedly a single restroom with long lines. People were suffering, particularly the elderly. One passenger sent me a photo of the long lines via Twitter. 

One passenger commented on Cruise Critic that Royal Caribbean "is refusing water and people are leaving in ambulances." Some passengers reportedly collapsed due to the heat and lack of water. And @It'sYourWorld tweeted a photo (photo below right) of a San Juan ambulance which arrived at the port to attend to one of the passenger trying to board the ship.  

Meanwhile, Royal Caribbean's Facebook page said nothing about either the Adventure or the Navigator. While people began demanding an update on Twitter, Royal Caribbean posted a photograph of a beautiful tropical port of call (photo bottom left). At a time of crisis with customers begging for information, Royal Caribbean was clueless. It was trying to sell cruises with images of paradise when people in the sun needed water. 

As the afternoon dragged on into the evening and night, the passenger attempting to board these Royal Caribbean ships were kept in the dark. When Royal Caribbean finally began to tweet, its tweets were meaningless. One tweet it made over and over said: " We will provide more information . . . as information is available." 

Hundreds of passengers and the usual "Loyal-to-Royal" cruise fans began tweeting every few seconds. Of the hundreds of tweets, here are a few.

A cruise social media expert said: 'Hey @CCLSupport any way you can help out @RoyalCaribbean on their updates? They don't seem to be taking your lead :)"  He added another tweet: "@RoyalCaribbean's last tweet was promo for Ibiza & @RoyalCaribPR's last tweet was Friday. #FAIL"

A woman concerned for her elderly parents tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean when can incoming guests check luggage? Senior parents (one disabled) have been up since 4am. They are exhausted."

Another woman from Texas tweeted: "My mom received no email or call updates. Found all the update info on Twitter. Pathetic!"

A man from Ohio tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean why are your offices closed when you have 1000s of passengers waiting for information about boarding the Navigator of Seas?"

A cruise fan from Denver tweeted: "@RoyalCaribbean I understand the oil spill is out of your control but do you know how to use technology to communicate with your passengers?"

He added: "@RoyalCaribbean = confusion."

A member of Cruise Critic left this comment:

" . . . I am appalled by the lack of communication. Problems happen, (like busted ships and oil spills) but this is a problem that they knew they would have today given that it started Wednesday. There absolutely should have been a corporate plan in place to communicate with extra staff at port (3 days to fly staff from MIA to SJ is plenty of time) even if the only thing they would be able to communicate was that they don't know anything yet. Despite what anyone thinks, in corporate America today if you are Ambulance Stressed and Exhausted Cruise Passengers - San Juannot ahead of the news cycle you are behind...tweets, FB etc are required, and certainly emails, phone calls, texts, to passengers sailing are required, not 'optional.'

If as reported, no water or accommodations for elderly and special needs passengers were made while waiting to board; that's another major failure given the huge amount of time the company had to prepare for what they knew would be a problem. A hotel ballroom and shuttle could have been arranged cheaply.

This is completely unacceptable and another huge black eye for the Royal and the cruise industry."

You can read the Cruise Critic comments here.

Throughout Sunday afternoon, we received emails and comments on our blog and Facebook page asking for basic information about these two Royal Caribbean cruises from passengers at the ports, travel agents and concerned family members at home. A cruise line has a major PR problem when guests and travel agents are ignored and have to seek information from a maritime lawyer rather than a cruise representative. We directed a number of people calling us to the Carnival updates about the Galveston situation and also sent the link to the webcam at the port of Galveston so that they could see when the Navigator finally arrived in port (photo top right).

It still remains uncertain whether the Adventure of the Seas will sail today. The Royal Caribbean PR Twitter feed @RoyalCaribPR remains silent. The Royal Caribbean main Twitter page @RoyalCaribbean has offered no updates for 14 hours. The page claims that it offers "inspiration and information from the official sponsor of WOW. Living the #cruiselife 24/7." Hardly.

The problem here is that cruise lines like Royal Caribbean try and squeeze their ships (and employees) to make every dime possible.  It could have decided to take its crippled Adventure of the Seas out of service a week early for dry-dock but instead loaded the new round of passengers aboard to avoid paying a hotel for the night or refunds for the missed cruise. 

This is not Royal Caribbean's first PR blunder in San Juan. In August 2011 as a hurricane headed to the island, Royal Caribbean Serenade of the Seas sailed 6 hours early. But Royal Caribbean did not contact its guests via the emergency contact information about the new itinerary.  It didn't provide the passengers, who arrived in San Juan to find that the ship had left, with hotel rooms. It abandoned its guests in the middle of a hurricane and didn't bother to tell them.

Super cruise fan Carolyn Spencer Brown, editor of Cruise Critic, expressed outrage in her blog Bad Royal Caribbean Fantasy VacationsWeather Blunder: A Lesson in Cruise Crisis Control? "This takes my breath away. And it’s not about the fact that it didn’t offer to pay for hotels and flights . . . . It’s about dropping the ball in a risky situation. Clearly, I’m not the only one who is shocked at Royal Caribbean’s lack of responsibility to its customers. On Cruise Critic’s forums, its blog, and its Facebook page, travelers are incredulous." 

One of the continuing criticisms of the cruise industry is that it may be skilled at marketing fantasy images of idyllic cruise vacations but it is not prepared when disaster strikes one of its increasingly gigantic cruise ships. It's clear that Royal Caribbean has not invested into the infrastructure of its crisis management department and developed policies and procedures to effectively communicate meaningful information in real time. If Royal Caribbean can't handle a weekend when two cruise ships are delayed, one for an oil slick and another for a known propulsion issue, do you think that it can communicate effectively when a fire strands either the Oasis or the Allure on the high seas in rough weather or, God forbid, a huge ship sinks at sea? 

Why the Cruise Industry Will Always Struggle With its Reputation

This week I listened to the multi-millionaire cruise executives praise the cruise industry at the "state of the cruise industry" at the Cruise Shipping Miami (CSM 2014) trade show.

As anticipated, Carnival's CEO and former Monsanto chemical executive Arnold Donald said cruise ship accidents are "so rare . . .  cruising is safe."  Royal Caribbean's long time executive Richard Fain claimed that cruise lines are "heavily regulated." The audience of travel agents and vendors tied to the cruise lines all politely clapped.  

The speeches contained little substance, no statistical support, and virtually all self-serving opinions. Carnival Cruise Ship FireI felt like I was at a motivational speaker convention sponsored by Amway.

The telling comments at the conference came from Norwegian Cruise Line's CEO Kevin Sheehan. He said: "we are ruled by public opinion; unless we can keep our business running right will always be on defensive." The NCL boss added: "a period of operational excellence and no media incidents are needed."

Of course, this was the real insight into the state of the cruise industry - the cruise lines are on the defensive. The cruise lines seem nervous as they claim that their troubles are behind them. They are in the business of selling fantasy dream-like vacations to ports in the Caribbean which are becoming more and more violent.  They are praying that the media doesn't bash them after a cruise ship catches on fire or a family is gunned down in the streets of Nassau. 

What's the industry's plan to pull itself out of the harsh media scrutiny? I didn't hear one at CSM. The cruise lines, it seems to me, are just hanging in the balance hoping for the best. 

But history tells us that more trouble lies ahead. 

There have been over 90 fires on cruise ships since 1990, according to testimony at one of the many Congressional hearing on cruise ships disasters. Some fires were big, some were small although there is nothing really insignificant about any type of fire on the high seas.

Last year, the big story involved the Carnival Triumph, of course, which CNN covered non-stop. But the more significant fire involved the Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas which burned for two hours. Most people seem to have already forgotten the fire on the Grandeur. Yes there will be cruise ship fires this year; hopefully minor ones only with no injuries. The public knows that accidents happen. The most important issue is whether the cruise lines respond promptly and responsibly (like Royal Caribbean did after the Grandeur fire) or delays unreasonably (like Carnival after the Triumph fire) and / or acts outrageously (like Carnival after the Concordia disaster)  

The cruise industry's image problem is not just because of ship fires and Concordia-like disasters. The continuous stories about bad medical care, mistreatment of crew members, sexual assaults, children victimization, missing passengers, and so forth, coupled with a callous PR response, have more of an effect on the cruise industry's image. Its like reputation death by a thousand cuts.

Last December, I published Top 10 Most Outrageous Cruise Ship Stories of 2013 & the "Worst Cruise Line in the World" Award.

In my assessment, the factors which most harmed the cruise lines' reputation last year didn't involve accidents at all. Rather, the most damage came from incidents showing the cruise lines' egregious disregard of the law and a lack of care and compassion of their passengers and crew. The real damage comes from events like mishandling cases involving persons disappearing at sea, ignoring the man overboard laws, crew members arrested and sentenced to jail for child porn, fleecing crew members of their tips and retirement benefits, and a family cruise line aiding and abetting a child predator escape justice. 

One of the most embarrassing stories last year involved Silversea Cruises which was caught by the USPH hiding perishable food down in the crew quarters. We were contacted by crew members who complained about this, but Silversea ignored us when we contacted them. We sent the story to CNN. The special that CNN produced tarnished not only this luxury line but cast the entire industry in a bad light. The entire chain of events could have been avoided by Silversea just being honest and transparent.

The cruise lines suffer, in my opinion, from a combination of being arrogant and rattlebrained. The cruise industry engages in some really bad conduct on a continuous basis. It often makes things substantially worse when confronted by the media and bloggers like myself.

Last week, former crew members sent us video and photographs which seem to suggest that MSC MSC Cruises Cruise DumpingCruises has been dumping garbage, plastics and debris into the water in violation of international pollution law.

We asked MSC for an explanation. MSC ignored us just like Silversea Cruises did last year. MSC claims that un-named authorities in Brazil are investigating the allegations, but it refuses to identify the authorities or provide contact information. MSC is digging itself and the cruise industry into a deeper hole.

Cruise lines like MSC tout that they treat the maritime environment like this when in truth they may be treating the waters like this.  When the major media networks latch onto a story, the cruise industry is forced to make a statement, but the cruise lines often sound and appear evasive and unbelievable.

Until cruise lines act responsibly and treat all of their crew members, guests and the earth with respect and act with transparency toward the media, the cruise industry's reputation will continue to suffer. 

Princess Cruises' Defense Every Time Norovirus Strikes: "The Passengers Bring It With Them"

This morning I wrote an article about Princess Cruises immediately blaming the sick passengers for what appears to be the latest norovirus outbreak aboard the Caribbean PrincessBlame Game: Princess Accuses Passengers of Starting Norovirus Outbreak on Caribbean Princess. Princess's PR spokesperson Julie Benson accused the passengers of bringing the virus with them when they boarded the cruise ship.

She didn't mention that the virus was wreaking havoc during the prior cruise.

Blaming the passengers is part of the PR strategy of Princess and the cruise industry.  

This afternoon I remembered reading a book by cruise expert Professor Ross Klein about this public Cruise Ship Squeezerelations defense strategy by Princess. The book is called "Cruise Ship Squeeze."  Professor Klein has been recognized as an expert regarding cruise line issues by both the House of Representatives and the Senate before whom he has testified several times.

I suggest reading Chapter 8 of Dr. Klein's book. At pages 179 - 183, you can read about the cruise industry and Princess blaming the passengers. Eleven years ago during a 2003 cruise, passengers were stricken with a gastrointestinal illness. Princess accused their cruise passengers sick with norovirus of "bringing it with them." But the truth is that during the prior cruise, the cruise ship had experienced passengers sickened with the same sickness. 

No scientists arrived at this conclusion. And there was nothing remotely scientific about what Princess represented to the public. 

Ever since then Princess says the same thing over and over every time norovirus sickens the guests. 

Who needs epidemiologists when the cruise line PR team has already figured out what to say?

When Norovirus Strikes, Cruise Line Cheerleaders Run & Hide

The news of 600 passengers and crew members stricken with what appears to be norovirus is dominating the cruise news today. The story broke on Friday with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announcing that a little over 300 passenger and crew aboard the Explorer of the Seas were suffering from nausea and diarrhea. 

The number rose to over 450 by the weekend. This morning the CDC raised the number of sick people to over 600.

This story came on the heels of another Royal Caribbean norovirus case last week. The Majesty of the Seas returned to Miami the other week with passengers and crew sickened by norovirus. The story Explorer of the Seas Noroviruswas heavily reported as well.

The cruise norovirus stories seem to bring the disgusting Triumph "poop cruise" stories back to life. Hundreds of people floating around on a nasty ship jammed with people who wanted off the cruise and away from all of the vomit and diarrhea.

This morning around 4:00 AM I published my second article ("A Royal Mess") on the outbreak. I then went to the airport in Miami at 5:30 AM to meet a client. A CNN special about the Explorer's gastrointestinal illness (GI) outbreak was on a flat screen television positioned above one of the baggage carousels. Hundreds of people who had just flown into Miami watched the television as they waited for their bags. I watched them either shake their heads in disgust or laugh, perhaps nervously, as the CNN anchor interviewed a Royal Caribbean passenger who described the widespread illnesses on the sick ship.

I was familiar with this particular passenger's plight because we had exchanged tweets on Twitter about the cruise ship GI outbreak. Passengers tweeted over the weekend to anyone and everyone who would listen to stories about the ordeal. I could see that reporters from ABC, CBS and other major networks were sending messages to anyone they could find on Twitter looking for a live voice to tell the story. Reuters reported that one passenger wrote on Twitter: "I've been sick and quarantined... Everything I touch goes in a biohazard bag." A newspaper in the U.K., the Daily Mail, embedded tweets from some of the sick passengers, including a couple of tweets that I shared with one ill passenger.

The puke-fest-on-the-cruise-from-hell-story was growing and growing. It became clear that far more than 300 people were sick. The story would shortly become viral.

As usual, CNN beat their competitors in covering the story with a couple of video interviews of passengers on the stricken ship. One passenger was angry about the cruise line's disorganization. He said his last cruise with Royal Caribbean also involved widespread gastrointestinal illnesses. Another passenger complained that no one in the ship's room service would answer his calls for water, and no one told him when the quarantine was lifted.     

Where were the public relation representatives of Royal Caribbean protecting the crew's and cruise line's reputations? Where were the PR experts for the cruise industry? Royal Caribbean finally sent out a formal statement to the press but there was no one on the cruise line's twitter feed interacting contemporaneously with the sick and suffering on the cruise ship. 

The trade organization for the cruise line, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), was asleep. Indeed, a check of the CLIA Twitter feed (@CruiseFacts) shows no tweets since December 18, 2013 - over a month! That's an eternity in the fast paced world of social media.

The CEO of CLIA, Christine Duffy, was no where to be seen. She needed to present the cruise industry's side of the story. She last tweeted on Thursday, the day before the outbreak from her handle @CLIACEO. Ironically, she last tweeted about a "great column" in Travel Weekly about the "new wave of attacks on the cruise industry" which featured a travel agent's criticism of me. (You can read my response here).

This shows a problem with the cruise lines' PR. The cruise industry PR is always late and in reaction to bad press. The cruise industry seems to be always complaining about CNN and the bad press, but it doesn't bother to interact with its aggrieved customers in real time. By the time it finally responds to bad news, there are other stories bringing even worse news. The travel writers will be pleased to write a puff piece whenever CLIA wants one, but the coverage is strictly after-the-fact. It lacks spontaneity and genuineness. There are no travel writers fast and nimble enough to react immediately when trouble comes.  

When disaster strikes, whether it's a fire, a capsizing, or just the latest norovirus outbreak, the cruise lines don't know what to do. Their twitter and Facebook pages are silent. Their executives go to the Miami Heat games. The travel agents and travel publications run and hide.

A crisis management expert, Rich Klein, just wrote a blog about the predicament facing Royal Caribbean. With the headline "Honesty Remains Lonely Word," he writes that the cruise line has active Twitter and Facebook pages "but 24+ hours into their respective crises, only customers are reporting the obvious news while the companies offer little insight into what happened."

As sick passengers lamented their cruise-from-hell on Twitter and aggressive news reporters brought their stories to an international audience, Royal Caribbean and CLIA were enjoying their weekend. No one had their hands on the wheels of the PR machine. When genuine sympathy and a quick refund were in order, the cruise industry engaged in slow motion corporate talk. Royal Caribbean has still not even mentioned whether or how it intends to compensate its sick guests for the unpleasant, aborted cruise. 

 

Photo Credit: Thomas Layer / AP Photo

Death & Lawlessness? or the Best Vacation Possible? Australian Newspaper Explores Conflicting Views of Cruising

Cruise Line StoriesA newspaper in Australia presents two sides of the cruise industry today. 

The main article is entitled: Death, Assaults, lawlessness ... the Dark Side of the Cruise Industry. It's a must read article for everyone interested in the historical view of the problems which continue to plague the cruise industry: missing passengers, excessive alcohol, drugs and sexual assault of minors.

At the other end of the spectrum is the cruise friendly piece: 11 Reasons Why a Cruise is a Safe Holiday. If you love cruising and think its the best thing since sliced bread, this article is for you. 

Have a thought? Please join the discussion on our Facebook page.

Carnival Scores PR Coup During Interview with CBS's Peter Greenberg

Arnold Donald Carnival CruiseCarnival scored some much needed public relations points during an interview with CBS News' travel expert Peter Greenberg. Following several high-profile mishaps (the Costa Concordia disaster and the Carnival Triumph "poop cruise"), the cruise giant is reportedly spending more than half-a-billion dollars for improvements on its fleet of cruise ships. 

Of particular interest during the interview was that new CEO Arnold Donald (who replaced Micky Arison, photo left, as CEO) was featured. He appeared relaxed during the interview with Greenberg while discussing some serious issues. Some points made by CEO Donald during the CBS interview:

"Not only did no one die, no one was hurt, no one was sick, so there was no safety health issue involved with the Triumph at all."

"In the highly unlikely event we should ever lose power again we'd be able to have a system to back that up and we'd have a process to keep from losing power in the first place." 

Carnival rerouted 63 miles of cable, so that a fire would be less likely to take out both engine rooms, as it did on the Triumph. "If one room is lost, we don't lose the other."

Fire suppression was increased: water mist nozzles were increased from 30 to about 500, and a 24 / 7 manned patrol was added to look for oil or fuel leaks. And finally, a second backup generator (nowhere near the engine room) was installed just in case.

Photo Credit: local10.com / Video Credit: CBS News

September 4 2013 Update:  The CBS Morning Show Segment That Looks Like a Carnival Cruise Commercial via Skift - Does CBS stand for Carnival Broadcasting Station?

 

 

Is Cruise Line Public Relations the Hardest Job Around?

I have always wondered how the cruise industry PR people do it.  

They face non-stop bad cruise news. The Splendor fire. The Concordia deaths. The Allegra fire.  The Triumph fire.  Plus another 10 cruise ship fires, 50 norovirus outbreaks and more shipboard rapes than you can count in just 3 years.

Yet, the cruise line public relations employees put their happy faces on and pull out their talking points. Cruise ship fires, crimes, deaths and disappearances are "rare" they say. Cruising is "absolutely" safe they promise. The safety of passenger is the cruise industry's highest priority, they proclaim. 

Cruise Lines PRBut fewer and fewer people seem to believe the cruise lines shtick. 

The usually friendly-to-the-cruise-lines reporters at the Miami Herald are even writing some articles that suggest that cruising may be suffering an image problem.

The Herald just published "Americans Think Less of Cruising after Carnival Triumph Fire, Poll Says."  A Harris Poll of 2,230 adults showed that "trust" and "perceived quality" of Carnival and other cruise lines dropped "significantly."

According to the poll, 58 percent of people who have never taken a cruise say they are less likely to try one now than they were a year ago. 

On the same day the poll was released, Forbes announced that Carnival CEO Micky Arison's fortunes increased one billion dollars last year, from $4.7 billion to $5.7 billion.

With all of Carnival's deferred maintenance of its cruise ships, exploitation of its crew members, refusal to reimburse the U.S. federal government for Coast Guard expenses in responding to disabled ships, and avoidance of U.S. corporate taxes by registering itself in Panama, how do the cruise PR representatives spin the news today of cruise tycoon Arison's enormous wealth?

 

Image Credit:  A Bruising For Cruising  (NetBase)

Does Anyone Believe the Cruise Industry Anymore?

The U.S. and international media covered the saga of the stricken poop-filled Triumph cruise ship non-stop last week. CNN led the coverage with its "ceaseless, rigorous reporting" on what some newspapers are characterizing as essentially "inconvenienced cruise passengers without working toilets." CNN enjoyed a 74 percent increase from its recent prime time numbers according to the people that follow these type of statistics.

The media loves to interview maritime lawyers in Miami. As of the weekend, I participated in over 45 newspaper, radio, TV and cable news interviews about the Triumph fire.  The media is still covering the PR and legal fallout following the debacle.  There is a debate playing out in newspaper articles and cable news shows whether aggrieved passengers should pursue lawsuits over the incident or, as I Cruise Ship Public Relations - Pr - Triumph Fire feel, they should accept Carnival's meager compensation and move on with their lives.     

But there is little debate about whether there are too many fires and capsizings involving cruise ships these days. 

The cruise industry has done a pretty good PR job with its talking points over the years - "cruising is remarkably safe, the "safety of our passengers is the cruise industry's top priority" and so forth. But after the Costa Concordia deadly disaster just a year ago came a dozen cruise ship fires on cruise lines like Azamara, Costa, Cunard, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. At some point, the cruise casualties reach a critical mass. If the cruise lines' response is always "cruise-accidents-are-rare," at some point the public simply does not believe a word they say.

We are past that point today.  

Last week CNN asked me to write an article about my opinions of the cruise industry. Readers of this blog know I have a lot of opinions about how the cruise lines operate. I had literally a few hours to type the article and CNN posted it on line later that day: "What Cruise Lines Don't Want You to Know."  The article sparked a debate not only about cruise ship safety, but about the cruise industry's non-payment of taxes, avoidance of wage and labor regulations, exploitation of its foreign crew members, and damage to the environment.  Many hundreds of readers left comments (nearly 2,000 to date) and over 12,000 people "liked it" on Facebook.  Clearly the article struck a cord with a lot of people.

Yesterday, the cruise industry's trade association, the "Cruise Line International Association" (CLIA), wrote its response to my article: "A Cruise is a Safe and Healthy Vacation."  Only 115 people have "liked it," and just 10 readers have left a comment.  Here are some of the comments:

"This guy works for Cruise Lines, enough said."

"Why in the world would I believe this cruise line spokesperson?"

"How many wolves do (we) need to guard the hen house again, honey?"

"Someone getting Cruise industry payoffs to write this nonsense."

If I have learned one thing as a trial lawyer for the past 30 years, it's that the American public is smart. Don't ever underestimate a jury's intelligence and common sense.  If I have a problem with my case, I acknowledge it. I make certain that I discuss the weaknesses in the case in my closing argument. But If you talk around troubling issues and try to bamboozle people, you will lose your credibility and lose your case in the process.

The cruise industry has some serious problems, including a lack of federal oversight over the safety of passengers and crew.  But the cruise lines will not acknowledge anything negative about their industry.

By publishing a puff piece like cruising is "safe and healthy" when cruise ships are catching on fire and guests are sloshing around in urine and feces, the cruise industry is doing more harm than good to its already shaky reputation. 

 

Join the discussion about this article on our Facebook page

Can the Cruise Industry Keep Up With Bad Cruise News?

The Costa Concordia in January disaster set off a seemingly endless avalanche of stories on cable news this year about ship fires, sinkings and other cruise disasters, as well as a steady stream of articles and videos about sexual assaults during cruises, drunken brawling passengers, and the disappearance of women at sea.

I'm just one of probably 100 maritime attorneys in the United States who handle cases against cruise lines. But just this year alone I have appeared on ABC's 20/20, Dateline, PBS, Canada's CTV and CNN, as well being quoted in newspapers and magazines like the Wall Street Journal, Slate, The Daily, London's Financial Times, Newsweek Magazine, Newsweek's The Daily Beast blog, Fund Web, Reuters, Consumer Affairs, Australia's Herald Sun, Houston Chronicle, Seattle Times, Sun Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Tampa Bay Business Journal, Business Insider, and Greenwich Magazine.

I Love Lucy - Chocolate FactoryEven Perez Hilton quoted one of our stories about a cruise crime for goodness sakes. 

The cruise lines' PR have been working overtime to respond to hundreds of stories from the U.S. and international media about cruise ship mishaps and dangers.

The cruise industry's trade organization (CLIA) has been pumping out press release after press release, touting that cruise crime is "rare" and trying to explain that the Concordia debacle was an isolated incident caused by one bad-apple captain.

But stories about ship fires, engine failures and children being sexually assaulted on cruises keep coming and coming.

A lot of pressure has fallen on CLIA to salvage the cruise industry's reputation. That's a daunting task.

There's the pesky image of the Concordia lying on its side in Italian waters as a daily reminder that 32 people are dead and yet the cruise line did not even have a procedure in place to require life boat drills before sailing. Plus the cruise industry has the visual disadvantage of having to compete with the dramatic images on television of the panicked passengers trying to save their own lives, as well as teenage rape victims explaining the horror of being raped during a vacation cruise.

Slick corporate gobbledygook after-the-fact PR statements about the "safety of our guests is the cruise lines' highest priority" are not going to cut it.           

The victims' stories are too compelling. Belated PR statements from an industry with a major credibility problem won't work.

The cruise industry has picked the CEO of CLIA, Christine Duffy, to combat the bad press.  CLIA just launched a new blog and opened a twitter account for Ms. Duffy to fight the bad news. 

One of MS. Duffy's first blogs was "Sailing with Respect" where CLIA touted itself as a steward of the marine environment. It included a beautiful stock photo of colorful tropical fish and pristine water. But today a story broke about what is believed to be cruise ship garbage and feces drifting ashore on a quaint beach in Massachusetts. Local officials believe a HAL cruise ship emptied its bilges after sailing from Boston last month. The story was covered in the local press, a television station in Boston and USA Today's travel section.

Faced with these images, its hard for anyone to believe the cruise industry statement that it is "extremely committed to protecting the waters and surrounding environments where we operate to preserve their natural beauty, minimize impact on native species and protect the waters upon which we sail."  Happy talk won't persuade the public faced with plastic bottles, used hygiene products and condoms washing ashore covered in a gooey brown mass of human excrement.

Also breaking today was a story from a local station in Houston about a woman from Texas raped during a cruise out of Galveston.  CLIA responded with its usual PR statement that crime is "rare," which seems cold and callous juxtaposed against a video of a woman sobbing that no one helped her after she was raped on the last night of the cruise. 

I don't see how Ms. Duffy can keep up with the continuous bad news.

An image comes to mind of an "I Love Lucy" episode of Lucy working at a chocolate factory.  Pieces of chocolate come out of the kitchen on a conveyor belt. It's Lucy's (and Ethel's) job to tie the chocolate up in an attractive wrapping (not unlike Ms. Duffy's job to wrap the bad news with a pretty bow). 

But the conveyor belt picks up speed. Soon Lucy is overwhelmed. She tires to eat or hide the chocolate but makes a mess of herself and the chocolate in the process. Finally, she exclaims "I think we are fighting a losing game." 

    

The Right Way To Report A Sad Cruise Story

A Carnival crew member went overboard around 1:00 a.m. yesterday from the Carnival Splendor cruise ship.  According to crew members, the crew member jumped.  Unfortunately, despite a prompt search, the crew member was lost.

The incident was not reported by Carnival's corporate headquarters, nor was the incident reported by the press.  Instead the first person to report on it was a popular Cruise Director, John Heald, who was aboard the cruise ship at the time of the tragic incident.  Mr. Heald is employed as Senior Cruise Director - John Heald Carnival's Senior Cruise Director and writes a very popular blog named, naturally enough, John Healds Blog

The article Mr. Heald wrote - A Very Sad Day -  explains what happened in a clear and sensitive manner.  You will not find any hint in the blog of the stiff corporate mumbo-jumbo which we see from most cruise lines.  One of the problems cruise lines face is that they are afraid to reveal tragedies like this.  When they say nothing, or delay, or sugar coat ugly facts, they lose credibility at best or look like they are hiding things at worst.

But Mr. Heald's informative and respectful blog timely explained the circumstances which brought the cruise ship to a stop in the middle of the night.  It avoided speculation and conspiracy theories. It was the right thing to do.  Over a hundred readers commented, almost all 100% in support of the thoughts expressed in his article. 

Over 140 people have gone overboard in the last decade.  This is the first time I have seen such a prompt statement of a crew or passenger overboard by anyone associated with the cruise line which contained accurate and timely information and also conveyed the story in human terms. 

The industry's trade organization, the Cruise Line International Association, should invite all of the public relations and corporate communications experts from all of the other cruise lines to a cruise with Senior Cruise Director Heald so they can watch a real pro in action.       

 

Photo credit:   Carnival-News.com

The Cruise Industry's Reputation - A Sinking Image

Labadee - Haiti - Royal Caribbean - PR - public relationsThe cruise industry has an image problem.  Royal Caribbean is the main reason.

This year began with Royal Caribbean's business-as-usual approach to ferrying passengers back and forth to its "private destination" in Labadee (actually sovereign Haitian land leased from Baby Doc Duvalier).  While Haitians tried to dig out of the rubble and bury their dead following the devastating earthquake, Royal Caribbean passengers zip lined, jet skied, or sat drinking margaritas on the cruise line's private beach.

Royal Caribbean received widespread condemnation from advertising and PR experts nationwide. 

Newsweek magazine joined the ranks of those questioning Royal Caribbean's corporate morality in an article "Setting Sail on a Haitian Pleasure Cruise - the Moral and Economic Dilemmas of Royal Caribbean's Labadee Port."  On the same day, the widely respected non-profit organization, Center for Responsible Travel, issued a press release chastising Royal Caribbean for not doing enough. The non-profit group characterized the cruise line's move as "unsound" and a "colossal public relations faux pas."

This sentiment echoes the criticism by PR experts in Advertising Age's "Royal Caribbean Blasted for Continuing Stops in Haiti" where the consensus is that this was a "massive debacle" which may have long term damage to the Royal Caribbean "brand." 

The Feministing Blog admonished Royal Caribbean for taking advantage of the incredibly poor country of Haiti and urged its readers to consider going on a cruise line other than RoyalRoyal Caribbean - Labadee Debacle - Caribbean "or tell them that these practices are unacceptable."

Royal Caribbean's President Adam Goldstein told National Public Radio that the decision to continue to sail to Labadee was a "no-brainer," a flippant and indifferent remark reflecting, perhaps, the core values of the "Nation of Why Not?"  

But this nothing new for Royal Caribbean. It's just the latest debacle in a series of public relations blunders dating back over a decade.

In mid 1990's, the cruise industry's arrogance had reached a zenith.  The industry thought itself to be above the law.  Cruise ships routinely dumped everything overboard - from plastic garbage bags to crime scene evidence.  The cruise industry treated the sea like a garbage dump.  It treated crime victims like criminals.   

In the late 1990's, the U.S. Coast Guard caught Royal Caribbean engaged in the widespread Save the Waves - Bogus PR - Royal Caribbean Cruisesdumping of oil and chemicals.  The Justice Department responded by fining the cruise line $1,000,000.  In response, the cruise line went to its PR people who dreamed up a campaign of "Save the Waves."  The PR experts posed the cruise line as a leader in protecting the environment.  Royal Caribbean posted this mantra on signs all over its cruise ships.  All of the waiters, bar tenders, and cabin attendants had to wear "Save the Waves" badges touting the cruise line's commitment to protecting the seas on which it sailed. 

The problem, however, is that the cruise line didn't change its ways.  Royal Caribbean continued to illegally discharge oil, waste and fecal matter everywhere from the Caribbean to the pristine waters of Alaska.

The Feds caught Royal Caribbean dumping again.  And the U.S. government fined the cruise line again - this time $8,000,000 - and placed it on probation.  Did Royal Caribbean learn its lesson?  No, the illegal discharges increased.  While the crew members wore their "save the waves" buttons above deck while serving passengers cocktails, Royal Caribbean engineers below the decks fabricated secret by-pass values to dump everything from raw sewage to chemicals used in the photography labs directly into the ocean. Royal Caribbean cruise ship even dumped oil and sewage into the waters right outside of the executives' windows overlooking Biscayne Bay.

The U.S. Attorney General, Janet Reno, a Miami resident herself and an environmentalist as well, Royal Caribbean - Crime Scene? - Cover Up? - PRwas not amused. The discrepancy between how the cruise held itself out to the public as a green company versus its actual criminal conduct was not lost on the Attorney General.  By the time she was through, Royal Caribbean pled guilty to multiple felonies, received another whopping fine of $18,000,000, and agreed to a five year probation.

While Royal Caribbean was forced to clean up its act on the environmental front, it found itself embroiled in multiple lawsuits after women and children were sexually assaulted during cruises.  Its own guests accused it of hiding evidence and tampering with crimes scenes on the cruise ships.

Royal Caribbean went back to its PR consultants for a quick fix of the problem.  The result was a much publicized "zero tolerance" slogan where the cruise line promised to report all crimes to the FBI and to preserve evidence to be used against the perpetrators, who too often were crew members.  But like the "save the waves" marketing gimmick, the "zero tolerance" motto was just Cruise Industry Reputation - Mr. Clean - Sanitized Crime Scenes?another PR scheme.    

All too often, by the time the FBI arrived on the scene following a shipboard rape, all evidence was gone.  The cruise industry was often accused of sanitizing the cabins and steam cleaning the carpets. The destruction of evidence on cruise ships seemed so thorough that it appeared like a scene out of Pulp Fiction where hit men Vincent (John Travolta) and Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) call upon Mr. Wolf (Harvey Keitel) to oversee the meticulous clean up of their bloody car. 

In 2005, I was retained to represent the newlywed bride of George Smith IV, who disappeared from Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas under mysterious circumstances.  At this time, Royal Caribbean was an admitted corporate felon which had just come of probation for its environmental crimes and lies to the U.S. Coast Guard. 

The cruise line quickly labeled Mr. Smith's death to be an "accident."  But there was blood all over the awning below his cabin.  And when photographs of what many thought was a crime scene began appearing on cable news every night, the American public had doubts about what Royal Royal Caribbean - PR - Public Relations - Cover Up?Caribbean was saying.  For the next year, the cruise line fought a highly public PR battle in the press, pandering to their base of travel agents and cruise fans while attacking the grieving families. 

In the process, the cruise line's history of shipboard crimes came into focus.  The U.S. Congress convened five hearings from 2005 through 2009 into the issue of whether cruise ships were safe.  The debate focused almost exclusively on Royal Caribbean's history of sexual assaults, shipboard crimes and unexplained disappearances of passengers.

While Royal Caribbean decided to fight a very public battle in the press, behind the scenes other cruise lines cringed as the cruise industry's image sank further and further.  When things could not get any worse, the President of Royal Caribbean's main competitor, Carnival, entered the public relations nightmare.  President Dickinson publicly proclaimed that the death of young George Smith was a "non-event."  Not only did Carnival's President decide to state this publicly, he chose to do so at the cruise industry's annual "Sea Trade" convention in Miami Beach in front of hundreds of reporters - while sitting next to Royal Caribbean's President Adam Goldstein. 

Rather than distancing himself from such disrespectful comments, Mr. Goldstein sat smiling and was later photographed openly chuckling with Mr. Dickinson in front of the cruise delegates.  Royal Caribbean - PR - RCCL's Adam Goldstein - Public Relations - Carnival's Dickinson About what?  Who knows.  But the damage was done. The cruise industry's indifference and arrogance came through loud and clear. 

Over the past five years, if something outrageous happened on a cruise ship, chances are the ship carried a Royal Caribbean flag.  Child molestation, sexual assault, norovirus, employee theft, passenger and crew member over-boards - you name it, Royal Caribbean has it covered.  As I pointed out in Royal Caribbean Press Statements And Other Gobbledygook, the mantra of other Miami cruise lines is "only at Royal Caribbean could this happen."

In the next couple of weeks, we will report on some of the recent PR blunders by the cruise industry.  And chances are they will involve our friends at Royal Caribbean. 

 

Credits:

Haiti - earthquake     AP (via Mail OnLine)

Royal Caribbean cruise ship        The Consumerist    Don't miss reading "Royal Caribbean Caught Infiltrating Review Sites With Viral Marketing Team."

Cabin        MSNBC

Awning     CBS News

Royal Caribbean Press Statements And Other Gobbledygook

Last week was another rough week for Royal Caribbean. 

First there were repeated outbreaks of the nasty norovirus aboard the Jewel of the Seas which sickened hundreds of unsuspecting passengers. Then there was the embarrassment of a Royal Caribbean employee with a criminal record stealing private information from Royal Caribbean computers regarding Royal Caribbean customers so her career-criminal-of-a-husband could break into their homes while they were on Royal Caribbean cruises.  And finally there was a sexual pervert molesting a 6 year old child in the kid's H20 WaterZone aboard Royal Caribbean's Independence of the Seas.    

Roya Caribbean Cruise - PR - Public Relations - Press Statement - Crime - Norovirus For those in the know in Miami, Royal Caribbean is consider to the black sheep of the cruise industry.   Ask insiders at Carnival, NCL and the smaller cruise lines like Oceania, Regent Seven Seas, and Silversea Cruises for a quote?  They will whisper under their breath - only at Royal Caribbean could this happen.   

These stories caught Royal Caribbean flat footed.  Its PR people (which the cruise line calls the "corporate communications" department) were late to the stories and ended up issuing the usual corporate sounding PR statements which made them sound guilty as hell:

In response to the norovirus outbreaks, the Royal Caribbean PR people issued this statement: "At Royal Caribbean International, we have high health standards for all our guests and crew . . ."

This statement came after its own employee burglarized the homes of local Florida citizens who were cruising on Royal Caribbean ships: "Royal Caribbean does not tolerate any form of criminal activity in its workforce or operations . . . " 

And finally this one after the sexual abuse of a child in the children's water zone on its cruise ship: "Royal Caribbean maintains a zero tolerance policy regarding any criminal activity onboard our ships . . ." 

Gobbledygook!

Royal Caribbean's PR statements about norovirus and crime are corporate double-talk.

For example, the cruise line's "zero tolerance" program began as a public relations stunt ten years ago after it hired outside consultants to study its high rate of sexual assaults.  After the experts told Royal Caribbean that it had a problem because of the frequent sexual crimes on its cruise ships, the cruise line ended its study, rejected the experts' recommendations, and adopted a marketing strategy where it claimed that it had "zero tolerance" for crimes.  This was the same year it pled guilty to multiple felonies for making false statements to the U.S. Coast Guard and the U.S. Attorney's Office about environmental crimes.   

Since then Royal Caribbean's CEO, Richards Fain, tells the company stockholders each year that crime on Royal Caribbean ships is "rare" when the cruise line's own experts concluded long ago that crimes against passengers is "routine."  

As far as the "high health standards" go, take a minute and read the 46 comments by sick passengers who just got off Royal Caribbean's norovirus contamnated cruise ship.  

Out of this gobbledygook comes a clear message: you can't trust what Royal Caribbean says.

 

*The word "gobbledygook" comes from Maury Maverick, a Texan lawyer who served as a Democratic Congressman and the mayor of San Antonio.  He used the word in the New York Times Magazine in 1944 referring to a turkey, “always gobbledy gobbling and strutting with ludicrous pomposity.”

 

Photo Credit:      The Consumerist    Don't miss reading "Royal Caribbean Caught Infiltrating Review Sites With Viral Marketing Team."

And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . .

A handful of recent stories have shed light unwanted light on the image-conscious cruise industry.  Cruise lines like Carnival and Royal Caribbean spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year to paint pictures of care free vacations.  But here are some stories published in the last few days which make you realize that the fun-filled family cruise may a bit different than advertised.

Wedding Disaster on Carnival's Sensation - WKMG, a local television station from Orlando, Cruise PR - Cruise Public Relations reports on the disastrous wedding of a young couple on Carnival's Sensation cruise ship.  Initially delayed by a bomb scare, the wedding party was promised that the ceremony would go forward as planned.  But after arriving three hours late to the cruise ship, they find other passengers wandering into their pre-wedding buffet.  The ship's Captain then wanted them off the ship in thirty minutes.  So they quickly exchanged vows and headed to the reception buffet, which was interrupted by a muster station drill where other passengers arrived wearing life jackets and helped themselves to the buffet.  When the bride wanted to call Carnival's headquarters, the ship told her a per minute telephone charge would apply.  Watch the video, its a disaster.

The Death of Carnival Cruise Passenger Carol Olson - The Baltimore Sun covered the tragic death of a cruise passenger during a snorkeling excursion sold by Carnival which by all accounts was haphazard and disorganized.  Reporter Frank Roylance's wrote a blockbuster article entitled "Pleasure Cruises Bring Risks, Too - Families Say Tragedies Expose Cruise Lines' Limited Liability."  He touches upon an issue which the cruise lines like to keep secret - namely that cruise lines have insulated themselves from liability when the negligence of "independent contractors" like excursion companies and ship doctors ends up killing passengers. Roylance discusses cruise fires, drownings, disappearances, and crime.  

Date Rape Drugs on Princess Cruises -  The International Cruise Victims website just published a story "Cruise From Hell" where parents recount the terror of their daughter who goes to a teen center on Princess Cruises' Grand Princess only to end up missing.  According to the article, the daughter is eventually found semi-conscious by a stairwell.  The family reports that they endured the indignity of a security guard telling their daughter "where have you been, you little slut?"  Although the ship initially confirmed the involvement of a date rape drug, the cruise line later wrote the family a letter, saying that nothing happened.  Princess denied that any of the surveillance tapes showed anything - a tale we have heard before.

Royal Caribbean No Help To Passengers From the Tar Heel State - In a story we touched upon yesterday,  ABC affiliate WTVD News11 in North Carolina aired a story yesterday about a number of families who traveled to Miami only to find that Royal Caribbean's policies regarding the use of birth certificates as identification were inconsistent and confusing. The cruise line refused to permit passengers to board who had their original certificates from the hospitals where they were born, but let others aboard who had  facsimile copies from the clerk's office.  The $15,000,000,000 Cruise PR - Cruise Industry Reputationcorporation would not let any of the frantic passengers use their machines at the port.  Many frustrated customers spent $1,5000 each for a family vacation, only to be turned away from the ship.  Watch the video.

Carnival Terrorizes Passengers, Then Calls Their Stories "Ridiculous" -  Two weeks ago, the Carnival Ecstasy cruise ship was sailing across the calm waters of the Gulf of Mexico when it suddenly and unexpectedly made a 90 degree turn which emptied the pool, ripped tables bolted to the deck loose, injured 60 passengers, and terrorized hundreds more.  Carnival claimed that the ship turned to port and listed around 12 degrees to avoid what Carnival called a "loose" buoy. 40 passengers left comments on our blog, stating that the ship actually turned to starboard, listed as much as 30 degrees, and may have been trying to avoid a fixed buoy marking small islands later documented on a maritime chart.  Carnival's PR spokesperson mocked the passengers, called their claims "ridiculous," and refused to apologize.       

The cruise industry's dubious reputation has never recovered after the Department of Justice caught Carnival and Royal Caribbean engaging in wide spread dumping, falsification of log books, and lying and fined them a total of $45,000,000 ten years ago.   

Stories like these suggest that cruise lines still have a hard time telling the truth or treating their customers fairly and squarely.  And the cruise industry wonders why it has an image problem . . .    

 

Like this article?  Then we suggest reading:

Cruise Lines and Social Media - P & O Cruises Hits A Home Run

Advertising Age - Royal Caribbean Blasted for Continuing Stops in Haiti - Despite Generous Efforts, PR Pros Say Cruise Line Has Damaged Reputation With Its Response

Or read a puff piece by a traveler writer regarding the cruise industry's reputation: Bad Rap: Why the News Media's Cruise Reporting Goes Negative

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Have a suggestion for an article?  Let us hear from you in the contact box, above left. 

 

Credits:

Cruise ship and waiters               Bloomberg BusinessWeek

Injured Carnival Ecstasy passenger          Brandy and Ashley Vickery (via ABC13 "Sixty Passengers Hurt on Galveston-Based Cruise Ship")  

What's Up With The Water on Carnival's Liberty Cruise Ship?

Obtaining accurate information from the cruise industry is difficult.  Whenever passengers have a complaint, the cruise lines either ignore them or the cruise lines' customer relations departments send them a nonsensical letter several weeks later dismissing their complaints or offering a 25% on a future cruise.  This often infuriates the passengers who have no intention of ever sailing on a particular cruise line again and are seeking specific information to their legitimate inquiries. 

There are websites which provide an excellent source of information that the cruise lines don't want you to know.  One is CruiseJunkie, run by Professor Ross Klein in Canada.  Dr. Klein tracks safety issues, environmental concerns, and passenger and crew complaints. He has testified several times regarding cruise ship crime before our U.S. Congress.

Carnival Cruise Ship Liberty - WaterThis morning I read an interesting article on CruiseJunkie regarding a passenger's complaint that the water in the sink and toilet was brown and disgusting looking.  The passenger was a cancer survivor and was concerned whether the water may have been toxic.  Photos of the sink and toilet are courtesy of CruiseJunkie.  Take a look. 

Gross!

But the purpose of writing about this is not just to gross you out.  It is to demonstrate how cruise lines respond to concerns like this.

The shipboard officers and crew offered no assistance or explanation, and would not even send a few complimentary bottles of water to the cabin.  And when the passenger returned home and wrote to Carnival, the cruise line's "Guest Care" team sent what the passenger accurately characterized as a "nonsensical letter" stating "Designing memorable trips is the heart of our business . . . Great food and service . . . will create wonderful memories . . ."  The letter ended with no explanation regarding the source of the contaminated water but regretted that the passenger "felt let down."

The passenger contacted the Florida Division of Consumer Services, the US Public Health Service, and the Federal Maritime Commission - all of whom informed him that they have no regulatory authority over the cruise line industry.

This is what happens when the cruise industry is unregulated and is not obligated to report incidents to health or safety regulators.  Cruise lines like Carnival are not forthcoming with truthful information.  Whether it's the senior PR spokesperson or a low level clerk in the customer services' department, they will write a letter or issue a press statement treating the U.S. public like idiots.  

So the mystery of the disgusting water on Carnival's Liberty will remain, like many disturbing incidents on cruise ships, a mystery.    

Carnival Cruise Ship - Liberty - Water

Photographs courtesy CruiseJunkie.com

May 3, 2010 Update:

This is not the first time passengers have complained about the water on Carnival's Liberty cruise ship.  A reader brought the following YouTube video to our attention.  Take a look: 

 

 

 

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Cruise Lines and Social Media - P & O Cruises Hits A Home Run

Cruise lines which are in touch with their market understand the need to be versed with all aspects of Social Media 2.0.  Twitter, FaceBook, Flickr, and YouTube all present an inexpensive and highly effective way to get a company's message out to the public.  This is particularly important in times of crisis management, such when a fire breaks out or a bout of swine flu is running its course on a cruise ship.

Most cruise lines remain clueless.  Royal Caribbean, for example, has a Twitter page @royalcaribbean, but it has not been updated since June 19th.  The only tweet says: "Look for updates here soon!" - that was over three months ago. It resembles an abandoned store front.  

Other cruise lines which are using Twitter or FaceBook are not maximizing the potential offered by social media applications.  Companies like NCL  @NCLFreestyle have pleasant enough websites and utilize Twitter but are mostly just trying to push ticket sales.  Recent tweets by NCL: "hottest new cruise," cruises for "$249," etc.  You get the idea.

The problem with these tweets is that they flaunt the etiquette which has developed on Twitter.  Effective "twitterers" understand that hard sale tactics don't work.  In fact, they turn potential customers off.  But interacting with the public, and providing accurate and relevant information via a conversation, works.  You could imagine how ineffective and counter productive it would be if I took NCL's approach on Twitter - "hottest new lawyer," lawsuits for "$249," etc.  A bad idea.

Princess Cruises - What's Social Media?

When things go wrong at sea, the public deserves to receive accurate information, fast. And Twitter is the best way to do just that. 

When the Princess cruise ship "Royal Princess" caught fire on June 18th, the cruise line didn't release any information to the public.  But a passenger, a Pastor from South Carolina,  @gregsurratt tweeted about the fire from his iphone on the cruise ship.  He indicated that the fire was bigger than expected, that the cruise ship was dark, and that a tug had to tow the ship back to port in Egypt.  Frantic families in the U.S. had to rely on Pastor Surratt for information about their loved ones. He even tweeted photos of the fire, the passengers sprawling out on the deck in the dark, and the tug via "Twitpic" - an application which permits photos to be uploaded onto Twitter. 

When the cruise line finally awoke and posted its typical less-than-forthcoming corporate press statement, no one was paying attention to Princess Cruises.  Everyone was listening to Pastor Surratt tweeting away on the cruise ship in the Mediterranean.  Most troubling was that the press releases finally issued from Princess Cruises' corporate offices in Santa Clarita down-played the incident and provided incomplete and misleading information. 

Princess Cruises not only lost an opportunity to interact with the public via Twitter, but it lost credibility in the process.    

Twitter and YouTube - Effective PR Tools - P & O Cruises Gets An "A" 

Princess Cruises' sister brand P & O Cruises knows what it is doing in the world of social media.  P & O Cruises has had more than its fair share of bad things happen on its cruise ships.  It is best known for the tragic death of Dianne Brimble, who died due to a toxic mix of alcohol and a date rape drug several years ago.  The brand was known for heavy drinking, out of control parties and general debauchery.

But in the last two years, the cruise line has turned its image around.  The PR people at this cruise line rebulit P & O's reputation.  Social media played a big part.

For example, last May when the Pacific Dawn was sailing with passengers and crew infected with H1N1 swine flu, the news media in Australia went nuts. Front page news articles labeled the cruise ship the "swine ship."   

P & O went on the offensive. CEO Ann Sherry began giving short statements on the cruise line's blog.  The cruise line's website contains links to its Twitter and FaceBook pages as well as to "ship blogs" including the Pacific Dawn.  The cruise line knew how to upload videos of cruise activities to its ship blogs as part of its general marketing. It now had the experience to use this media to deal with this crisis. 

Ms. Sherry appeared on the scene, wearing a very smart red dress, and looked directly into the camera. She provided information about sick passengers and what the company was doing to address the issue. The cruise line used its Twitter page @POCruises to provide additional updates and links to the video.  It even uploaded a photo via "Twitpic" of Ms. Sherry, standing in the rain surrounded by reporters, while the beleaguered cruise ship with its sick passengers arrived at port. 

When the flu passed its course, the next ship blog, entitled "Clean Ship," showed photos of the Captain and crew having fun in the disco, smiling and laughing.  The message to the public was quite effective - everything is fine, come on aboard.

In the past several months, P & O Cruises continues to use social media effectively.  Ms, Sherry still appears regularly on YouTube videos, talking about the presence of surveillance cameras on the cruise ships, responsible drinking programs, and "customer care" teams.

it is nice to see a cruise line connecting with the public in this manner.     

 

 

Photo credits  

Photo no. 1 of Ann Sherry - Zimbio - "P & O Cruises Holds Swine Flu Conference" (Photo by Graham Denholm/Getty Images AsiaPac)

Other photographs and video - P & O Cruises