State of the Cruise Industry: Dangling Lifeboats, Missing People, Molested Teens, Drowned Guests & Dead Whales

I have always wondered how the public relations people at the Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) manage to show up at work. 

Their sole purpose is to spin the news and try to make the cruise lines look good.

It seems, to me, that's a hard thing to do.

In just the last ten days, a lifeboat on a Costa cruise ship broke free and was left dangling from the side of the Costa Mediterranea. Three people went overboard within four days from the Cunard QM2, the MSC Magnifica, and the Carnival Glory, all cruise ships without automatic man overboard systems. A Costa Cruise Lifeboatstateroom attendant molested a teen on the Carnival Valor. A well respected maritime accident investigation board roundly criticized Princess Cruises, after the needless death of a young Chinese woman, for taking no precautions other than posting a cavalier swim-at-your-own-risk sign by a lifeguard-less swimming pool on the Sapphire Princess. Princess didn't learn a thing from that death and a 8 year-old child nearly drown on the same ship last week. The girl sustained serious brain damage and is on a ventilator. 

Five deadly or life-threatening events in just ten days! Where is the industry's trade organization, CLIA, trying to put a happy face on the deaths and injuries?

CLIA is reeling from the quick exit of its new CEO, former admiral Thomas Ostebo, who used the words "frightening" and "shocking" to describe his one month experience at CLIA. No one at CLIA bothers to even try and spin these recent events. CLIA doesn't even try to convince anyone anymore that the "safety & security of its passengers" is truly its highest priority.

The priority of the greedy cruise executives seems to be lining their pockets with money while cutting crew benefits, stealing increased gratuities advertised for the crew, and nickeling and diming the passengers to death. 

So what's next for the cruise industry?  Dead whales. 

There is a widespread and well organized movement to boycott the Faroe Islands for its barbaric and heart-wrenching slaughter of pilot whales. Trouble is that most cruise lines tout the Faroes as a key port of call for their cruise ships. But an international coalition of mammal lovers, environmentalists and decent-hearted, concerned citizens, organized by non-profits and the powerful and media savvy Sea Shepherd organization, is making a change. Disney abandoned its plans to go there and three other lines, all European companies, announced that they will no longer support the Faroes in response to social media campaigns geared toward educating the public about the despicable whale slaughter.

But U.S. based cruise lines are still sailing there regularly. Royal Caribbean, Azamara, NCL, Oceania, Grindstopand Carnival owned HAL and Princess all still plan on calling on the Faroe Islands. I have written about the deadly and disgusting practice here. The Faroe locals slit the throats of the little whales and rip the babies from their mothers. It's up close and personal terror. Don't read the article if you are squeamish. 

Disney was smart enough to get out of the way of the oncoming media blitz. It will maintain its reputation because of its awareness, just like it wisely assigned life guards to its pools and installed automatic man overboard systems on its ships. But the Carnivals and Royal Caribbeans and NCLs are too CEO-egocentric and arrogant to figure out a way to avoid the train of public opinion coming their way.

CLIA, meanwhile, is clueless. It doesn't know what to say when a lifeboat breaks a cable or a passenger drowns in a pool with no lifeguard. It is a heartless and passionless group of former federal employee hacks trying to keep their jobs. 

I don't blame the CLIA 9 to 5'ers for staying home, hiding with the covers over their heads.

Have a thought? Please leave a comment below or join the discussion on our Facebook page.

 

Photo creit: Top - kolektiv; bottom - Sea Shepherd.

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."

Have a thought? Leave a message below or join the discussion on Facebook.

Photo Credit: Global News

A Week the Cruise Industry Would Like to Forget

This week has been a public relations disaster for the cruise lines and the travel industry.

A Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) crew member from the Norwegian Pearl was gunned down in Roatan after he walked off the ship to call his wife and check on his child back in the Philippines (suspect photo below right). A Disney crew member sexually molested a 13 year old girl on the Disney Dream.  A visitor from Canada was murdered and his family terrorized in the Bahamas. A MSC cruise ship, the Magnifica, was raided by the police and labor officials in Brazil for human rights violations. Princess and Royal Caribbean cruise ships infected hundreds and hundreds of guests with norovirus aboard the Grandeur of the Seas and the Crown Princess

You can read about the stories here.

A month ago I attended the Cruise Shipping Miami (CSM) and listened to NCL CEO Kevin Sheehan Roatan Murder Suspect Cruisesay: "we are ruled by public opinion; unless we can keep our business running right we will always be on defensive." The NCL boss added: "a period of operational excellence and no media incidents are needed."

A month ago I wrote that the continuous stories about mistreatment of crew members, sexual assaults, and children victimization will continue to damage the cruise industry's image. Its like reputation death by a thousand cuts. I heard no PR plan by the cruise lines at CSM to turn things around.  I said at the time that the cruise lines were just "hanging in the balance hoping for the best."

Well the best didn't come and cruise executive Sheehan didn't get his prayer answered for "no media incidents."

This week Sheehan pulled his cruise ships out of Roatan after one of his crew members was murdered last Sunday, but the move is just temporary. His ships will again start calling on Roatan at some point. But the danger is still there. Many cruise passengers, from Carnival and Royal Caribbean, as well as other tourists, have been robbed at gunpoint or machete point in Roatan earlier this year.

Crime in Roatan will not magically stop.  Other cruise tourists will undoubtedly be robbed. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world not to mention dysfunctional police and legal systems. Where do the cruise line go instead? Belize? The Bahamas? Their crime and murder rates are also some of the worst in the world.

Roatan, Belize, and the Bahamas are all beautiful but they are all dangerous places to visit. What families want to save up all year and go on a Caribbean vacation to get away from the stresses of their lives just to end up in some of the most dangerous countries in the world?

A new Harris Poll revealed that the cruise industry's image is sinking. The poll says that the U.S. public questions the safety and reliability of cruising. The poll cited the numerous norovirus outbreaks on cruise ships as one reason for the lack of confidence in the cruise industry. The poll was taken before the Roatan shooting or the Disney child molestation case this week.

Crime, Crew Member Treatment & Environmental Practices - Not "Wow" Gadgets - Will Shape the Millennials' View of Cruising in the Future

This week I have read a couple of articles about the Cruise Lines International Association's (CLIA) "Cruise 3 Sixty" conference in Fort Lauderdale. I read an article in the Sun Sentinel (Cruise Execs Talk About Industry's Future) and an article in Travel Weekly (CEOs Say Cruise Lines Must Wow Travelers).

CLIA's Christine Duffy moderated the conference attended by the travel agent loyals. She discussed the future of cruising with the executives of the major cruise lines like Richard Fain (Royal Caribbean), Arnold Donald (Carnival), Kevin Sheehan (NCL) and Pierfrancesco Vaga (MSC Cruises).

"The Millennials"

To attract more first-time cruisers, CLIA is targeting the "Millennials" (consumers born between 1980 & Millennials2000).  

The Sun Sentinel quotes Ms. Duffy saying: "This demographic group offers a window into the next generation of travelers and provides opportunity for serious growth. They have a strong desire to travel and to share experiences."

In simple terms Ms. Duffy is talking about the next generation of young people from age 14 to 34 (like my children and nieces) who CLIA is targeting as the next wave of 25 to 55 year-old cruisers. 

Who are these "Millennials?" What will they be interested in for their vacations?

Selling cruises to the the "Millennials" will not be an easy task. 

First, they are poorer than prior generations. They have more debt and student loans. And it won't be difficult to sell them cruises just because they will have lower incomes and less wealth. It's because there will be a disconnect between what the Millennials are interested in and what the cruise lines are offering, and because the Millennials will have a greater social consciousness than the current cruisers.  

Wow Gadgets Won't Wow the Millennials

The articles report that the cruise industry is trying to attract more first time cruisers by offering the public "more innovative ships with 'wow' features."

A recent publication correctly called the Millennials "digital wizards." Like my kids, they have grown up with high tech gaming toys seemingly before they could walk or talk. I don't see the Millennials being impressed by the "gee-whizz" and so-called "wow" gadgets being touted by Royal Caribbean (virtual balconies & the "North Star" device) or Princess (the "SeaWalk"). The Millennials are smart and their taste for technology is sophisticated. My kids have been mastering Apple products for 15 years. They Royal Caribbean Bumper Carsare not easily impressed with what I or the 60 and 70 year old cruise executives think are "cool." 

Some of the new attractions touted by the cruise lines are hardly wow gadgets in the first place. The bumper cars projected to appear on Royal Caribbean's next ship are a silly, old-school idea.  The Travel Weekly article even talks about "bowling alleys and self-leveling pool tables" and quotes Royal Caribbean's Chairman Richard Fain saying: "All of that conveys what cruising has to offer. It says something about what the industry stands for.”  Circa 1950 bumper cars, bowling alleys, pool tables for the Millennials? You have to be kidding me.   

The Millennials are less privileged, more diverse, and more liberal than today's cruisers. 4 out of 10 will not be white. They will be more sensitive to the plight of workers in the international community being over-worked and underpaid. They will be more attuned to environmental issues. They will have a greater understanding of the fragility of the air and water ecosystems that the cruise lines routinely abuse.

Human Rights, Not Bumper Cars

In the last three months, one cruise line in particular, MSC Cruises, has repeatedly made the news in the worst sort of way. Just this year, passengers and crew members have accused it of dumping garbage bags at seas in marine sanctuaries. The police and labor authorities raided one of MSC's ship to investigate allegations of the cruise line abusing crew members. MSC has drawn the ire of environmentalists by sailing through the San Marco basin and damaging the port in Venice.  

The traditional newspapers, like the Sun Sentinel and the Miami Herald, and travel publications like Celebrity Crew MemberTravel Weekly, have given little attention to these type of horror stories.

The image of the cruise industry will be shaped by issues like crime on cruise ships (a Disney crew member allegedly molested a 13 year old girl yesterday), crime in ports of call (a NCL crew member was shot and killed this week in Roatan), treatment of crew members from around the world (Carnival & Royal Caribbean seem to be competing to see who can best screw the crew members), and the cruise industry's pollution of the air and sea (have you seen the videos of MSC dumping trash?)

These are important issues that the Millennials will focus on. In the next 10 to 20 years, we will see the continued rise of social media and the presence of more contemporary publications focusing on issues of relevance to the Millennials.

Old school newspapers, which often blindly cater to the cruise industry, will continue to decline in readership and relevance.  

The bumper-car-and-pool-table and gadget-promoting cruise lines will lose the Millennials as customers unless they understand what the future really holds and begin to address issues of crime, crew member rights and environmental problems.  

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.  

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. 

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.

And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem: NCL Screws Another Customer in Distress

David Lazarus of the LA Times writes about how Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) refused to either refund or credit the cruise fare to 66 year old David Warlick and his wife after she was diagnosed with bladder cancer and underwent emergency surgery.

In his article "Cruise Line Unmoved By Customer's Cancer Emergency," Lazarus points out that although cruise corporations are considered to be a person under the U.S. Constitution, "when called upon to demonstrate a little human decency, they almost unfailingly respond with profound corporate indifference."

NCL defended itself by saying that it has a strict cancellation policy. Moreover, NCL pointed out the Norwegian Cruise Line - Kevin Sheehancouple should have purchased insurance. But NCL had no legal obligation to screw its cancer stricken guest. From a moral perspective, it could and should have done the right thing and let the couple reschedule their cruise until a later date.

This is not the first time NCL has acted like a bad corporate citizen.

NCL refused to refund the cruise fare of a passenger whose brother died and the funeral was on the same day as the cruise. The guest notified NCL, asking for a credit on a future cruise. NCL said no. He asked for their cruise to be donated to charity (Make-A-Wish) so a child with cancer could enjoy a once in a lifetime cruise. NCL said no. Then NCL re-sold the cabin to another couple.

NCL got a double profit due to the death of a guest. Ugh.

NCL also demonstrated a lack of humanity when a grandmother, whose home was destroyed last year after being submerged by Superstorm Sandy, tried to reschedule a $4,000 cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel for her family and grand kids. She appealed to NCL for help.

She even wrote the CEO Kevin Sheehan (above right) asking to refund the cruise or reschedule it, but the cruise line and its CEO wouldn't make an exception. NCL said absolutely no refund or rescheduling, even though the grandmother works driving special needs kids to school. This trip was going to be her first vacation ever, in 70 years.

But NCL refused to help the family and took their money. A news station says that when it approached NCL about the terrible situation, the cruise line erected a "stone wall of silence."

 

Photo Credit: prhub.com

Reputation Ravaged Carnival Hires New Marketing Firm

Beleaguered Carnival Cruise Line, which in just a few months turned itself into the "poop cruise line," has hired a new marketing firm to turn its image around.

The Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal reports that Carnival Cruise Lines has named the Lacek Group (TLG) as its new customer marketing agency. 

The Journal explains that the Lacek Group (TLG) is a Minneapolis-based agency known for its expertise in "loyalty marketing" and "customer retention." It will provide Carnival with "strategic services and the development and management of customer communications and engagement initiatives."

Carnival Cruise Line MarketingRob Borden, Carnival Cruise Lines' vice president of customer marketing, said in a statement. “TLG brings significant expertise utilizing state-of-the-art tools to identify insights from customer data and to find creative and compelling ways to engage guests through print and digital media. They are the ideal partner to help us take our customer communications and engagement to the next level."

That sounds like a lot of marketing mumbo gumbo to me.  Carnival has a major image problem. It seems that cruise lines today are seeking new outside experts to help them with their tattered images.

Engine room fires, disabled cruises, no air conditioning, and toilets that don't work require some seriously talented public relations and advertising professionals.

Carnival Corporation subsidiary Princess Cruises just hired a new advertising agency to help rehabilitate ts image.

Will the Lacek Group turn Carnival back into "The World's Most Popular Cruise Line?"

I wonder why Carnival Cruise Line, based here in Miami, could not locate local talent from Miami to help with improving its marketing efforts?  

 

Photo Credit:  CollegeHumor.com

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?

 

 

What the Cruise Lines Need Now - A Little Good News

The cruise industry is being pummeled in the world of social media. The endless stories of cruise ship fires, propulsion issues, engine failures, and, most recently, elderly passengers abandoned ashore after suffering serious injuries seem to come at a non-stop pace. The bad news affects the public's perception of cruising. A Harris Poll conducted this spring revealed positive cruise brand perception plummeted by double digits.

Even when cruise lines try and act transparently, they look suspect. Sometimes they get caught lying. Cruise lines like Royal Caribbean boast that they are voluntarily disclosing all crimes and overboard passengers. But when the cruise line published its disclosures last month, Royal Caribbean revealed only one out of eleven people who have disappeared from its cruise ships over the last couple of years. Dishonesty like this does no one any good.

But today, the Consumerist published a feel-good article about Disney Cruise Line. It seems like the officers and staff aboard the Disney Wonder helped a six year-old child, who became sick on the cruise Port of Miami Cruise Shipship, receive prompt and potentially life-saving medical treatment. The article bears the heart warming title Disney Cruise Line Went Above & Beyond To Help Save Our Child’s Life.

People ask me "why don't you write about happy cruise news?"

Occasionally I do.  Like when I wrote an article entitled Three Happy Cruise Stories - Salvation, Generosity & Rebirth. But that article was over three years and a thousand articles ago.

The motto of this blog is "everything the cruise lines don't want you to know." So our focus (and some say bias) should be apparent. We are not the most popular maritime law blog in the world because we write pleasant articles which make the cruise executives and travel agents feel comfortable.

Quite frankly I'd like to write more about truly remarkable things the cruise lines are doing, like Disney saving a child's life rather than assisting a child molester escape back to India or withholding information from family members about the disappearance of their daughter.  But positive stories like the Consumerist article seem few and far between. Most stories about proactive steps taken by the cruise industry are PR stunts planned after a cruise ship sinks or catches on fire or the day before a Congressional hearing about cruise ship problems.

If you have a happy cruise story about a cruise line going above & beyond to help a passenger or crew member in distress, send us a link and we will be pleased to mention it.

At this point, the cruise industry needs all the help it can get. 

Royal Caribbean Takes the Heat Over Azamara's Abandonment of Elderly Cruise Couple

Azamara Journey"Royal Caribbean In Hot Water Over Couple's Cruise Medical Ordeal" reads the internet headline on CBS News. This morning CBS Morning News covered the story of a 89 year-old cruise passenger, on the Azamara Journey luxury cruise ship, who broke his hip on the ship. 

Although the couple was initially satisfied with their treatment on the cruise ship, their feelings changed when they were dumped in a hospital in a small town in Turkey, where no one spoke English and which was ill-equipped to handle the emergency. Their hearts sank when the Azamara ship sailed away, leaving them alone. 

The elderly couple's plight was first covered by a ABC News' affiliate in Tampa, WFTS, and later by ABC national news, and most recently by CNN.

This morning CBS joined the crowd with an interview of the couple in the hospital in Turkey after the Stranded Azamara Journey Passengerscouple's travel agent and a good Samaritan in Turkey intervened. 

Royal Caribbean meanwhile made only the most cursory and cold hearted PR statement. It has taken a hit in the media. The timing could not be worse for Royal Caribbean following recent fires on its Grandeur of the Seas and subsidiary brand Pullmantur's Zenith, not to mention a loss of one month's revenue when its lemon Millennium stranded passengers in Alaska and needed extensive repairs.

Azamara, which actually operates the top brand cruise ship, has not said a peep. It is active on Twitter, as @AzamaraVoyages, but it has ignored the controversy of the abandoned 89 year-old with the broken hip.

Azamara's President, Larry Pimentel is also very active on Twitter as @LarryPimentel. A cruise blogger recently praised CEO Pimentel's social media skills, but his one tweet about the controversy reveals he doesn't Azamara Larry Pimentelunderstand social media or how to handle a crisis in the media. 

Gene Sloan of USA TODAY's popular travel blog called "Cruise Log" posted an article about the 89 year old's ordeal and made an inquiry on Twitter: "Elderly couple says upscale line @AzamaraVoyages abandoned them in Turkey this week after husband broke hip."  Sloan asked cruise CEO Pimentel about the Azamara guests' problems. Sounding like a lawyer, the cruise executive tweeted in response:

"Where did the guest purchase insurance? What did they insure against? Communicate with the agent or the insurance company!" 

Considering that the couple purchased the insurance though the cruise line, the travel agent has appeared on CBS and CNN pointing the finger at the cruise line, and Florida Senator Bill Nelson publicly questioned the cruise line's commitment to its guests, Pimentel appears clueless.

There's a reason why few cruise CEO's are on Twitter. One of the few cruise executives on Twitter, Carnival's former CEO Micky Arison, tweeted about his Miami Heat basketball team immediately after the Costa Concordia disaster. He hasn't stopped tweeting, but Arison was relieved of his duties as CEO due to his insensitivity on Twitter among other reasons.

If Pimentel is going to maintain any credibility in the world of social media, he can't just tweet happy-luxury-cruise news. He needs to accept responsibility when things go wrong on his cruise ships. He needs to learn to become personally involved in finding a solution when his guests are in peril.  In the world of PR, a cruise line president telling a 89 year-old cruise guest stranded in a hospital in Turkey to read his insurance policy and contact his travel agent is a recipe for disaster.  

August 28 2013 Update: After an avalanche of bad press, Royal Caribbean finally agrees to pay Mr. Melkonian's out-of-pocket medical expenses. As reported in the Tampa Bay Times, a doctor in the cruise line's medical and risk management departments says in an email to the couple: "Our customarily strong support was not up to the standard you deserve. Although medical situations produce anxiety and stress, especially when they occur away from home, I regret that we weren't more successful in minimizing these inherent difficulties for you and Mr. Melkonian."  

Meanwhile CEO Pimentel's Twitter page has ignored the predicament.  

 

 

Credits:

Azamara Journey: Wikipedia / Andy03992

Jill and Dodge Melkonian: CBS NEWS

Larry Pimentel: Cruise Chat

Video: CBS NEWS 

Wall Street Journal: "Reputation, Regulatory Issues Dog Cruise Industry"

Today the Wall Street Journal published an article about the cruise industry's efforts to overcome damage to its reputation while battling off criticism by a consumer group and efforts by Congress to regulate the industry.

The WSJ points out that the cruise lines have a lot to be concerned with, including "stranded vessels, fires, people falling overboard and being victims of crime." 

The cruise industry claims that no regulation is necessary because it adequately polices itself. The Allure of the Seas - Cruise Ship Regulationcruise lines cite a number of self-imposed (although largely unenforceable) recommendations to provide a safe and secure cruising experience for almost 21 million cruise passengers a year.

I was quoted in the article saying that cruise passengers should not take comfort in the so-called "bill of rights:"

“It’s not a bill of rights, it’s a bill of the industry’s rights, a voluntary scheme to limit their own liability.”

One of the problems I pointed out is that cruise lines register their ships and incorporate their companies in countries outside the U.S.  In the process, the cruise industry avoids U.S. taxes, U.S. minimum wage laws and safety inspections.

Most cruise lines are also not employing automatic man-overboard system, as required by the Cruise Vessel Security and Safety Act of 2010. 

You can access the WSJ here, but you need a subscription to read the whole article.

Confidence in Cruise Ship Safety Sinks: Air Travel Perceived Much Safer & More Reliable

Bad news for the cruise industry as it tries to salvage its sunken image. 

A recent Harris Poll concluded that that perceptions of the safety and reliability of the top cruise industry brands are not only low but continue to decline.

The average "Trust Score" shows the steepest decline for Carnival, although trust in the other major cruise lines has fallen significantly.  

The intention of the public to buy a cruise has declined across the board with Carnival again being the hardest hit.

Over six in ten Americans (62%) agree that air travel is much more reliable than taking cruises and the majority (56%) agree that air travel is much safer than taking cruises.

Roughly half of Americans agree that they're less likely to take a cruise now than they were a year ago, with this sentiment proving stronger among those who have never taken a cruise (56%) than among those who have (43%).

The poll finds that even several moths past the Carnival Triumph debacle, which crated creating a "low tide for the industry as a whole," the perception of a dangerous and unreliable cruise industry continues. "The industry as a whole, as well as the Carnival brand specifically, may still be facing rough seas."

Costa Concordia Cruise Disaster

Norwegian Cruise Lines Abandons Sandy Victims, While Royal Caribbean Steps Up to the Plate!

WABC New York TV reports on a story tonight which may explain why many cruise lines have a major problem with their reputation. 

The story involves a grandmother, whose home was destroyed last year after being submerged under four feet of the surging Superstorm Sandy, who had booked a cruise aboard the Norwegian Jewel for her family and grand kids at the cost of over $4,000.

Joanne Keating was set to sail on November 4th, just days after the storm. She was left with nothing NCL - Norwegian Cruise Line after the storm ravaged her home. Her home and life savings were all gone.  

Ms. Keating appealed to Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) for help. She even wrote the CEO Kevin Sheehan (right) asking to refund the cruise or reschedule it, but the cruise line and its CEO wouldn't make an exception. Absolutely no refund or rescheduling. 

The pitiful thing is that Ms. Keating and her daughter make a living driving special needs kids to school. This trip was going to be her first vacation ever, in 70 years! But NCL could care less. It refused to help the family and took their money.

The news station says that NCL acted cruelly and when approached about the terrible situation, erected a "stone wall of silence." 

Its not the first time that NCL has acted so selfishly.

Read And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem if you want to know about some really bad customer abuse by the people at NCL.

The local news station in New York was resourceful and asked another cruise line to help the stricken family out.  Royal Caribbean, of all cruise lines, offered the family a free cruise. Watch the video below.     

 

Photo Credit:  prhub.com

Trending Now: Carnival Cruise Line's Reputation Circles the Drain

One of the interesting things about social media is that there are numerous services which track "what's tending now." Certain applications can also track words or phrases which are dominating the news.

I like to use TweetDeck as well as Monitter to follow trends involving the cruise industry.

"Carnival cruise" has been trending all week at a frantic pace. And the news is not good.

Carnival Cruise ship NightmareThe cumulative effect of the recent cruise ship fires, power failures and images of passengers on disabled cruise ships complaining about toilets over-flowing has turned Carnival's reputation into a joke.

Carnival's "fun ships" have been ridiculed on Saturday Night Live, David Letterman & Jay Leno, and featured in MAD Magazine (see below). 

Consider some of the comments which are twirling on Twitter right now:

Packing for my Carnival cruise: tent, sleeping bag for deck, iodine pills, generator, Cipro.

We all lose if CBS doesn't film the next Survivor aboard a Carnival Cruise Ship

Maybe we should shut down Abu Ghraib prison and send the terrorists on a Carnival Cruise

I wouldn't go on a Carnival cruise right now even if it were free

One of the secrets to Carnival Cruise’s unsinkable business model: free Coast Guard rescues

They have so many cruise commercials because Carnival is just sinking

Even with the 50% discount from Carnival it will be difficult to go on that cruise line again

Carnival cruise boats are shit LOL dont know why ppl go on them...

Decisions. Decisions. Trying to decide whether to take a Carnival Cruise or just stay at home and shit my pants

My new punishment for my 12 year old daughter: Do your chores or I'll send you on a Carnival Cruise

if its a carnival, there's a 96.13% chance something will go wrong and youll get a free cruise out of it... Have fun!

Last week I posed a question on Twitter whether Carnival was the Wal-Mart of the high seas? Several people said no way - don't insult Wal-Mart, Carnival is more like K-Mart.

What's the funniest comment about Carnival you have heard on Twitter this week? Join the discussion on our Facebook page.

MAD Magazine - Carnival Cruise Ship

Costa to Re-Float the Concordia, But Can the Cruise Industry Salvage Its Reputation?

Friday the 13th was the 6 month anniversary of the January the 13th Costa Concordia disaster.

This weekend, I read through several dozen articles which looked back over the last 6 months since the Costa cruise ship killed 32 people and terrorized thousands.  I watched the recent specials on NBC and CNN about dangers inherent in cruising, including rapes as well as ship fires and sinkings.

I am struck by just how badly all of the articles and videos portray the cruise industry.

The Miami Herald recently published an article Cruise Industry Still in Troubled Waters Six Months After Costa Concordia, written by tourism reporter Hannah B. Sampson, who I have criticized for writing puff pieces supporting the cruise lines. Ms. Sampson seems to have had a moment of insight.  She writes " Costa Concordia Salvage. . . the cruise industry is treading water, faced with depressed fares in key markets, continuing negative headlines and would-be cruisers still spooked by the deadly disaster." 

The article continues: " . . . lawsuits related to the Jan. 13 catastrophe are piling up. The captain blamed for the accident — still being investigated but no longer on house arrest — is making new headlines in television interviews. And the larger question of safety on cruise ships is earning greater scrutiny as longtime critics gain a wider audience."

This time, the Miami Herald has the story exactly right. Things are indeed tough when the Miami Herald - a huge supporter of the cruise lines - delivers a message that the cruise industry is struggling.

The Miami Herald interviewed the usual cruise lines fans and industry representatives. Carolyn Spencer Brown, the editor of the popular online cruise community Cruise Critic, and an unabashed cruise supporter, is quoted saying “It was horrific, the ship’s still in the water, we’re still hearing about it.”  She predicted that  " . . . we won’t see the new normal until we get past the year’s anniversary."  I agree, assuming the doomed ship is not still lying on its side in the little port of Giglio next year.

Salvage operations are finally starting in an effort to float the dead cruise ship out of sight to a scrap yard where it will be disemboweled, cut up and eventually melted.  The salvage operations seem to be painfully slow to me, although I suppose it is a massive undertaking with a ship that big.

Will the salvage be done by January 13th of next year?  It will be a PR disaster if not. The cruise industry doesn't want the ship to still be there when the families of the dead return for another vigil.  I would not doubt it if the salvage contract contains incentives to complete the job before January 13, 2013.      

There is another operation underway - to try and salvage the cruise industry's reputation.  This is a far more difficult task.      

The Concordia disaster brought the world's attention not only on the outrageous conduct of the captain but on the manner in which the cruise industry treats its customers after disaster strikes. Part of the discussion today involves the onerous terms of the passenger tickets which the cruise lines draft to protect themselves against all legal claims.  It is shameful for a cruise industry, which collects over $35,000,000,000 a year and pays no taxes, to offer 11,000 Euros on a take-it-or-leave-it basis to traumatized passengers.

There is also the pesky business of cruise ship crimes (particularly rape) and accusations that the industry covers crime up. The debate whether cruising is a perfect place to commit a crime has resurfaced and reached a much broader audience.   

The cruise line's trade organization, Cruise Line International Association (CLIA), doesn't have much to say to compete with the images of the panic and terror aboard the Concordia or the spectacle of a rape victim explaining how a family vacation turned into a nightmare.  CLIA's talking points are old.  This is an industry that promises cruising is safe, but works overtime to conceal crimes from the public.

The public must feel uneasy when CLIA's favorite PR statement “the number one priority of the cruise industry is the safety of its passengers” is juxtaposed against a 15 year old girl on CNN's Anderson Cooper's program discussing how a crew member raped her.

CLIA was under siege at a Senate hearing into the Concordia last March when Senator Rockefeller characterized CLIA President Christine Duffy as dishonest and the cruise industry being more interesting in avoiding U.S. taxes than the passenger's safety.

Add to this the recent revelation that the FBI and the cruise lines scuttled the Cruise Vessel Security & Safety Act in a concerted effort to prevent the U.S. public from learning about the hundreds of crimes which occur each year on CLIA cruise ships.    

CLIA tries to portray the cruise industry as proactive and interested in regulating itself.  But many think this is more publicity than substance. Consider how little the cruise lines have done since January to actually improve cruise ship safety. 

The Herald article outlines only a handful of steps the cruise lines have discussed in an effort to convince the public to spend their vacation dollars cruising:

Costa Concordia Evacuation - Confusion(1) more life vests on the ships; (2) no unnecessary people in the bridge; (3) pre-approved ship routes shared with all members of bridge; (4) twelve uniform emergency instructions; and (5) evacuation drills before a ship leaves port.

But these are such basic procedures that it is shocking to think that they were not in place 100 years ago, after the Titanic sank. 

It's like having an aviation industry where there are no mandatory safety instructions before take-off, girlfriends of the captain are permitted to enter the cockpit during an emergency landing, and the captain is the first one off the plane and down the emergency slide.

Even uber cruise fan Carolyn Spencer Brown admits: "Many of those changes should have already been in place before the incident."

My prediction is that the salvage efforts will have the Concordia out of sight before the one year anniversary of the disaster.  

But the cruise line's reputation?  If the cruise industry doesn't develop transparency, its battered reputation will sink further below the waves. 

 

Photos credits:

Top - AP / Pier Paola Cito

Bottom Sky News

The Cruise Industry is Now Officially Out of Control

Yesterday was one of the stranger days in the weird world of cruising.

Royal Caribbean reported a 40% drop in net income for the first quarter of this year.  Its net income was $47 million, down from $78.4 million a year earlier. Royal Caribbean's CEO Richard Fain attributed the decline in net income on the Costa Concordia tragedy but said that he doesn't think that the effects of the Concordia disaster would be long term. "We did not expect the impact of the tragedy to be long term and we are seeing evidence the effects are waning.”

Perhaps the effects of the Concordia may fade, but not if the the cruise disasters keep coming. A month after Concordia, the Costa Allegra suffered a disabling fire and floated around in waters where pirates lRoyal Caribbean - Reputationike to also cruise. Things like this make families nervous.  Satirist Andy Borowitz published an article "Citing Safety Concerns, Somali Pirates Refuse to Board Cruise Ships - Fires, Capsizings Top Pirates' Concerns, Spokesperson Says."  Lots of cruise fans thought the article was serious.

This last week, the cruise industry has been rocked with the Star Princess scandal, when the Princess cruise ship sailed happily by a disabled little fishing boat drifting 100 miles off coast of Panama. World opinion came crashing down on Princess Cruises (also owned by Carnival) when the public learned that 2 of the young men (one just 16) died due to Princess' nonchalant attitude while several passengers pleaded for the cruise ship to assist the stricken boat.  

Speaking of outrageous conduct, this month started out with news that a Carnival security officer and housekeeping manager (both male) were involved in the strip searching of a girl on the Carnival Sensation which included allegedly making her remove her tampon while they watched.

While Fain was quick to point blame his company's sinking profits on his competitor (Carnival), he didn't mention that one of his cruise ships, the Azamara Quest, suffered an serious engine fire which disabled the vessel last month.  He also didn't mention that he still pocketed $5,900,000. Poor bastard. How can he survive on that?  

But seriously, lets think about this for a moment.  One of Fain's ships caught fire last month and he still makes around $6,000,000 with declining bookings and increased fuel and operating costs while a cruise disaster happens every other week it seems.  Royal Caribbean pays its waiters only $600 a year working over 12 hours a day. So Fain still makes 10,000 times more than he pays a waiter to serve your family.     

CBS indicated that the declining profits at Royal Caribbean were because passengers may be "spooked by the high profile cruise problems."  

Later that evening (last night) an engine room fire broke out on Royal Caribbean's Allure of the Sea. Cruise Law News was the first to report on the cruise ship fire yesterday.  This is the 80th cruise fire in the last 22 years. The Miami Herald, which is a supporter of the cruise industry and rarely covers negative cruise news, passed along the cruise line's PR statement that the fire was "small and quickly extinguished."  Why does that not make me feel any safer?  

The Allure is the largest cruise ship in the world with 7,500 passengers and crew.  All fires start small. Its a bad thing for a small fire to break out on the world's largest cruise ship in the middle of the sea. Like the Carnival Splendor which recently suffering an engine room fire, the Allure is a new ship.  Why are new ships catching on fire?  Most cruise fans could care less. The most important thing to them seems to be whether the fire will disrupt their cruise next week. 

The Miami Herald chose not to report on a blockbuster story which we reported on yesterday.  A Cunard cruise line youth counselor under arrest admitted that he sexually abused 13 boys on three Cunard Cruise Child PredatorCunard cruise ships which he worked on (Queen Mary 2, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth) over the course of four years.  A prolific child sexual predator running amok on the cream of the cream luxury Cunard brand of cruise ships for four years.  The sick pervert also videotaped himself abusing the children on the cruise ships, either for his viewing pleasure later or perhaps for trading with other pedophiles.

If there is a sexual predator on Cunard ships, do you think that there are no perverts taking your child into a bathroom alone on Royal Caribbean and Carnival brands?  Wait a second, Cunard is owned by Carnival here in Miami.  Why wouldn't the Miami Herald report on 13 little boys being diddled on one of the Carnival brands?  You think that your kids are safer on a Carnival fun ship running out of Galveston than a Cunard ship sailing from Southampton?

I shouldn't be so hard on the Miami Herald.  It sold out on any type of investigative journalism a decade ago, and it was not the only newspaper not to report on the cruise line sexual pervert.  Not one other media outlet in the U.S. covered the story.  Only Cruise Law News did.  Major newspapers alternate between being cheerleaders for the cruise lines to being indifferent to something as shocking as 13 little kids targeted and preyed on by a cruise ship employee whose parents entrusted their kids literally into his filthy hands.  

What is going on?

Cruise executives make 10,000 times more than a waiter who works 360 hours a month, and can still rake in $6,000,000 in the worst economy while cruise ships sink, collide and burn around them.  Luxury cruise liners like the love boats of Princess look the other way while people are dying at sea. Newspapers rush out the cruise line's talking points of a supposedly "small and short" fire, but refuse to mention 13 child abused on the most prestigious cruise ships sailing today. A strip search of a girl on the Carnival "fun ships?"

The cruise industry appears out of control to me.

Six Lies The Cruise Lines Will Tell You After The Costa Concordia Crash

Shortly after the Costa Concordia capsized, the cruise lines' PR committee assembled to try and figure out a strategy to minimize the disaster's effect on the cruise industry. 

A decision was made for the cruise lines to issue a series of "talking points" to the media. The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) and the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) distributed "cruise safety talking points" to travel agents, travel magazines and the media.  CLIA embedded the talking points into "updates" on the Concordia crash on its website. CLIA's president Christine Duffy released "open letters" which travel publications and blogs often published in their entirely, without questioning the accuracy of the information.   

Costa Concordia Cruise ShipTravel agents began pitching the talking points to the public in articles like this one from Travel Market Report entitled "What to Say to Clients Post-Concordia."  You can read "6 Talking Points" and other tips from travel agents on how to overcome reluctant clients' fears and talk them into buying a cruise. 

Here are some of the cruise industry's talking points: 

1.  "100 Million Passengers Sailed in Last Five Years and Only 16 Died"

This talking point is part of the "cruising is incredibly safe" message.  It's false and misleading.  It's based data from a private consulting firm for the cruise lines which excludes crew deaths and excludes cruises which don't call on U.S. ports.  This excludes the deaths in the last cruise sinking (the Sea Diamond).   Click on the cases under our section "Maritime Death" and "Disappearances" categories to the left.  You will see that there have been many more than 16 people who die during cruises each year.   

The information is further limited to "maritime casualties," like two ships colliding into one another.  But if you take into consideration the passengers and crew who died because of bad cruise ship medical care, murder, lifeboat accidents, deaths during excursions, deaths on Flow Riders and rock climbing walls, drownings, drug overdoses, drunken assaults, being dropped overboard during medical evacuations, and suspicious disappearances - there are far more than 16 deaths during cruises each year for each of the last five years.  

The cruise industry wants you to think that the Concordia is just a freak accident.  But read about prior similar accidents here and the problems with cruise ship fires here.  The Concordia is just the latest in a long list of catastrophes. 

Dayana Arlotti - Costa Concordia CruiseCruising is not just a means of transportation. Cruise ships are floating amusement parks and entertainment venues. Compared to Disney World (which attracts more tourists than all cruise ships combined) or any international hotel or resort chain, there is no place where you are more likely to die than on a cruise ship.     

2.  "Cruising Is Safe for the Family & Kids"

This whopper of a lie makes my skin crawl. Last week, the bloated body of Dayana Arlotti (photo left), a five year old little girl from Italy, was finally pulled from the wreckage of the Concordia.  

It's a sick joke for a travel agent to hawk cruises by telling parents "hey, I bring my children cruising - it's perfectly safe!"  Don't tell that to Susy Albertini, Dayana's mother (photo below right).

Read though my blog and learn of other dead children caused by cruise line negligence over the last few years. Read about cruise tragedies involving kids, and the extraordinary efforts the cruise lines take to avoid accountability, like this story.  And this doesn't include the kids who are sexually abused during cruises, including being molested by cruise line youth counselors.         

Susy Albertinni - Costa Concordia Cruise3.  "No Cruise Ship Has Sunk Since the Titanic" 

Some travel agents have taken the "cruising is safe" talking points so far that they are claiming that no cruise ship has sunk in 100 years.  

The Travel Market Report quotes travel agent Nancy Yoffe of Cruise Planners, in Spartanburg, South Carolina explaining how she sells cruise tickets in the post-Concordia world: “ . . I would say the last time a ship like this went down was 1912.”

These travel agents may be good salesmen but they are bad historians.  

The truth is that many cruise ships have sunk with loss of life.  The last sinking was the Sea Diamond,which nailed a charted reef, and sank just four years ago.

Then there is the infamous sinking of the Oceanos cruise ship (photo left), where the captain abandoned ship leaving women, children and elderly passengers to die (they miraculously survived). The sinking of the Oceanos is featured on my list of top 5 cruise ship disasters - watch the video here.
Cruise Ship Sinking - Oceanos

Other spectacular sinkings of cruise ships include the loss of the Sun Vista which burned and sank.

No one can forget the sinking of the Andrea Doria, which ironically enough was home ported in Genoa, Italy where Costa is based. It sank in the Atlantic after a collision with another cruise ship. The fire and sinking of the Yarmouth Castle resulted in nearly one hundred dead passengers and crew.  Add to this list, the sinking of the SeaBreeze I, the Majestic Explorer, the Al-Salaam Boccaccio, Achille Laura, Explorer, M/V Saurav, Queen Of The North, Senopati Nusantara, M/V Bulgaria, Estonia, and the Mikhail Lermontov (which sank in 100 feet of water off the northern tip of New Zealand’s South Island after hitting a reef).

If a travel agent sells a cruise by misrepresenting that no cruise ship sank for the 100 year period between the Titanic and the Concordia, they should be sued for fraud.

4.  "The Cruise Industry is Heavily Regulated"

The basic business model of the cruise industry was perfected by Carnival's founder Ted Arison in the 1960's - incorporate the business in Panama and register the cruise ships there too in order to avoid all U.S. taxes and safety and labor laws, and then sell cruises to tax-paying U.S. citizens.  

There is no way that an U.S. incorporated business which pays income tax and complies with U.S. minimal wage and overtime laws can possibly compete with an offshore business like Carnival which collects nearly $15 billion a year, pays no taxes, and exploits workers from India and the Caribbean islands who earn as little as $550 working 360 hours a month.  

Ted Arison's son, current Carnival CEO Micky Arison, is carrying on this tradition of avoiding all U.S. regulation and oversight.  He and other executives understand perfectly well that the success of their cruise lines depends on avoiding U.S. oversight at every turn.  No wonder Micky is the richest person in Florida with a net worth of many billions.  

Flag states like Bermuda, Bahamas and Panama will never meddle into the cruise lines' business. Yes, there is the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and its "regulations."  But truth be told, the IMO is a weak and toothless U.N. entity.  It's "regulations" are mere suggestions.  If a cruise line ignores a IMO rule, there is no consequence. That's why you have have reputable journalists like reporters at Reuters who are characterizing the Concordia crash as a symptom of the cruise industry's "lax regulation and supervision," as explained in the recent article "How the Cruise Industry Sails Under the Radar." 

5.  "Cruising Will Now Be Safer Now Than Ever"

There is a warm, fuzzy and entirely naive sentiment expressed by travel agents that once a disaster happens, the cruise industry will quickly learn from its mistakes and make changes to improve safety.   The problem is that's not true with an industry which keeps things secret and does not invite regulatory scrutiny.

For example, two Costa cruise ships were involved in separate collisions in the years before the ConcordiaCosta Europa - Secret Report crash. The Costa Classica ran into a freighter and slashed a deep gash through the side of the ship. The Costa Europa slammed into a dock and killed several crewmembers. The flag state, Italy, investigated the incident but refused to turn the report over to the International Maritime Organization.  In the article "Costa Cruise Egypt Accident Report is Strictly Confidential," BBC News points out that the IMO cannot begin to assess the accident and consider potential improvements to safety without seeing the report.     

After the Concordia deaths, Carnival stated that it would be conducting a full blown audit of Costa to make certain that its operations were being conducted safely and responsibly.  Whether this is happening who knows. This was a PR move, to head off public demands that the cruise line should be investigated by the government.

There is no statement by Carnival that the results of the alleged audit will be released to the public or that it will permit its operations to be investigated by professional and independent maritime experts. That will never happen. If there is an audit, Carnival will keep the results secret. This is the wild west environment of the cruise industry, not the aviation industry which is squarely under the thumb of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).    

6.  "Excessive Drinking, Violence & Crime Are Rare"

Shortly after the Concordia disaster, ABC News aired a 20/20 cruise special.  I was in the special explaining how the Concordia drama unfolded.  You can watch the first segment of the program here

The second part of the program showed the problem of excessive drinking and violence.  You can see that segment here. I learned a new phrase watching the show - "cruise drunk."  It has been clear to me for years that there is way too much booze and way too few security personnel on cruise ships.  When I expressed these opinions on the 20/20 show, I received hate e-mails for a week after the program aired.

The ASTA and travel agents took it upon themselves to include talking points in response to the 20/20 program, believe it or not.  The talking points included assurances that passengers don't get out of line or drink excessively.

Two weeks later 16 drunken cruise passengers were kicked off P & O's Pacific Dawn cruise ship for out of control violence. 

Be Honest, Tell the Public the Truth 

The cruise industry's reputation has been tarnished with a lack of transparency over the years.

A post-disaster PR campaign of talking points should start and finish with "be honest" - which is absent from the CLIA talking points.  Instead, CLIA suggests that travel agents should require clients to sign a "waiver" releasing the travel agent from all liabilities, including misrepresentations of the cruises. Why would an agent need such a waiver if they were simply telling the truth? 

There is a certain irony about all of these false talking points.  Many life threatening situations Costa Concordia - The Situation Is Under Control - Go Back To Your Cabinswhich the Concordia passengers faced after the cruise ship struck the rocks can be attributed to false information provided by the vessel's officers and crew.  

Remember, as water poured through the 160 foot gash in the Costa Concordia's hull, the officers were dishonest with the guests.  As the cruise ship sank, they lied to the passengers - "everything is okay; the ship had just experienced an electrical failure."  Later, the Costa crew falsely assured passengers - "the situation is under control, go back to your cabins." And no one can forget the lie told by Captain Schettino after he abandoned women and children to die on his ship that he had somehow "fallen into a lifeboat."   

CLIA's talking points, like the lies told by the Costa captain and his officers, perpetuate the cruise industry's reputation as lacking honesty and transparency.       

There are travel agents who don't rely on someone else's talking points.  New Jersey travel agent and my friend David Stern has his own warnings and safety videos on his web site.  

If you are a travel agent reading this, don't get caught up in CLIA's cult of personality.  Be yourself.  Learn about the history of cruise ship fires, collisions, groundings, sinkings and crimes. And then tell your clients the truth.

 

Photo credits: 

Dayana Arlotti:  lego.it

Susy Albertini: Telegraph

Will the Costa Cruise Brand Survive?

Costa Cruises Brand - Smokestack LogoSeatrade Insider has an interesting article today entitled "Costa Battles Media Onslaught, Concordia Scams."

The article raises the issue whether there is a future for the Costa Crociere brand following the Concordia disaster.   The article quotes Costa CEO Pier Luigi Foschi admitting that Costa's sales across the fleet are 35% below the same period last year.

But even if sales pick up, what long term damage did the Concordia crash cause Costa?  The Seatrade article explains that Foschi told an Italian newspaper that "we have been annihilated in the media. Our brand has been massacred . . . "   He went on to complain of the " . . . enormous attack of the mass media, for the most part unfair and unverified."  (emphasis added) 

I have never hear of such frank and dire talk by a cruise CEO. 

A couple of newspapers here in the US asked me for my opinion on how the Costa Concordia spectacle will affect the parent company, Carnival Corporation, and the cruise industry in general.  I stated that the Concordia is only one of over 100 cruise ships in the Carnival fleet.  Carnival is the proverbial 800 pound gorilla.  And its so diversified with multiple brands line Costa, Cunard, Princess, Holland America Lines and so on that even the loss of a $500 million luxury cruise ship (representing a little over 1% of its fleet) will be nothing but a blip on the screen of Carnival's financial bottom line.

Costa Concordia Cruise Ship - Costa BrandAs far as the cruise industry, the thought of the Concordia heading into the rocks while Captain Schettino dined with his girlfriend and then abandoned ship is going to be a headache for the industry for a long time.

And what about Costa?

Will Costa be forever stigmatized by this disaster?

Costa has a strong brand identity.  Its logo is beautiful, with the distinctive blue "C" emblazoned on a yellow smokestack.

But will the public ever forget the Costa Concordia's smokestack at a 45 degree angle, sticking out of the water off the coast of Giglio, with 15 dead passengers trapped inside the ship?   

Do you have an opinion of whether Costa will weather the storm and continue as one of the premier European cruise brands?  Please leave a comment below.

 

Don't forget to read some of our other articles on the Costa Concordia disaster:

Costa Concordia: "Cruising Italian Style - Unique Routes - Lifetime Memories"  

Cruise Crisis Management FAIL - How Carnival is Ruining its Reputation Following the Costa Concordia Disaster

Cruise Crisis Management FAIL - How Carnival is Ruining its Reputation Following the Costa Concordia Disaster

A cruise line's reputation in a time of crisis is often formed not by the circumstances which caused the crisis but by the company's attitude, appearance, and action afterwords.

I call this the "three A's" of cruise line crisis management: attitude, appearance & action. 

When disaster strikes and passengers are injured or killed during a vacation cruise, the U.S. public has a remarkable capacity to forgive the individuals and companies involved.  Part of this tendency to forgive, rather than judge, is tied to the Judeo-Christian heritage of our country - where Costa Concordia Cruise Ship - Cruise Crisis Management we sacrifice resentment and seek redemption in the process.

In practical terms, Americans understand that accidents are inevitable.  "Sh*t happens," the saying goes.  Bad things happen to good people.  An individual or company should be forgiven if they demonstrate a humble and respectful attitude; they appear on the scene to take stock of the problems they caused; and they take prompt action to help others injured by their conduct.        

So how have the principal actors in this drama performed so far?

Captain Francesco Schettino failed  miserably.  His attitude has been defiant.  His appearance?  None.  He abandoned ship in dereliction of the traditional maritime duty to stay with the vessel dating back to the Medieval Sea codes.  He fled the scene of a crime.  His actions?  Self preservation. Disregarding orders by the Italian Coast Guard to return to the cruise ship and assist Captain Francesco Schettino - Costa Concordia Cruise Shipin the evacuation.  Lying.  I slipped-and-fell-into-a-life-boat defies reason and belief. 

Costa's chief executive, Pier Luigi Foschi, and parent company Carnival's CEO, Micky Arison, are close behind the disgraced captain in trying to ruin their reputations.

Arison admittedly expressed his condolences from the comfort of his 200 foot luxury yacht in the Miami area.  But carefully crafted corporate PR statements go only so far.  He failed to appear at the scene.  How hard is it to hop in a Gulfstream jet and fly to Rome and then head over to the island of Giglio? 

In Miami, we hear snickering that as the Costa Concordia sits on its side with dead passengers still trapped inside, some of the the Carnival executives have been seen gallivanting around town at black-tie gala parties and even Miami Heat professional basketball games.  (CEO Arison owns the Miami Heat.)  But it was only this weekend, one week after the crisis started, that Arison sent senior executive Howard Frank to Italy.  Even then, Howard appears to be in Genoa where Costa's headquarters are located.  He apparently has no intention of making an appearance at the scene of death and destruction.

Although the physical presence of corporate executives at the scene of a mass disaster may be President Bush - Ground Zero - The Right Imagelargely symbolic, such visual images are important to demonstrate the corporation's attitude of concern and compassion.

President George Bush was perceived as demonstrating the right attitude when he appeared at the remains of the Twin Towers following 9/11.  He was photographed (left) standing on a pile of smoking rubble, with his arm around a fire chief, encouraging other fire fighters through a bullhorn.   But when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and images of panicked residents waving to helicopters on the roof of flooded house were broadcast on the cable news stations, the president was no where to be seen.  Photographs of President Bush (below right), later published of him looking from a window on Airforce One 35,000 feet over the disaster below, made him appear aloof and disconnected and did his reputation more harm than good.     

Carnival has managed prior cruise disasters effectively in the past.  When an engine room fire disabled the Splendor cruise ship in 2010, Carnival sent a team of executives from Miami to San President Bush - The Wrong ImageDiego where they conducted a highly publicized press conference at the port.  Carnival offered reimbursement of all cruise fares, waived all onboard purchases and promised a free cruise in the future.

Carnival followed the "three A's" of crisis management perfectly.  Its attitude was humble.  It appeared on the scene.  And it took immediate action to solve the problem.

I was so impressed that I wrote an article praising Carnival and providing my opinion why it should not be sued for the accident. 

But Carnival does not seem to know how to act following the Concordia disaster. 

We hear Carnival's CEO Arison finally saying the rights things. Five days after the crisis unfolded later, he finally tweeted "I gave my personal assurance that we will take care of each & every one of our guests, crew and their families"  He included a link to a press release issued by Carnival promising to take care of everyone.  But this weekend, there are news reports that the cruise survivors were stunned and insulted when Costa CEO Foschi offered a 30% discount on future cruises as part of proposed compensation to stave off lawsuits. 

A 30% discount?  Talk about pouring salt into the wound.  The cruise industry collects over $35,000,000,000 (billion) a year mostly from tax paying Americans yet it pays no U.S. federal taxes because it registers it vessels overseas and incorporated itself in Panama to avoid U.S. tax, wage and labor laws, and health and safety laws.  Arison himself is the richest person in Florida with a net worth of over $4,000,000,000.  

Carnival will not hesitate to make a claim against its underwriters for payment of $500,000,000 for its wrecked cruise ship as well as seeking hundreds of millions of dollars for the lost revenue caused by not being able to collect money from passengers sailing on the cruise ship in the future.  It Micky Arison - Carnival CEO - Compassionate CEO or Greedy Pig?is now rightfully facing public ridicule by offering a discount worth a few hundred dollars to avoid litigation.  I hate to think what the families of the dead loved ones think about taking a discounted Costa cruise in the future.

Carnival and CEO Arison have a mixed reputation in Miami over the years.  Lots of travel agents love Arison.  But Arison has faced more than his fair share of critics for Carnival's avoidance of taxes, exploitation of foreign crewmembers and indifference to the problem of women and children being sexually assaulted on Carnival's cruise ships.  Consider these articles: "Is Mickey A Greedy Corporate Pig?" or "The Deep Blue Greed - The Arison Clan Built Carnival into a Money Machine by Cleverly Avoiding Tax Laws" or Carnival? Try Criminal.   

Carnival has enormous financial resources and insurance proceeds to respond to the disaster and compensate the families who are suffering because of its reckless captain.  It can take care of the mess and salvage its reputation.  But does it have the corporate ethics to do so?  We know that CEO Arison loves the limelight when his businesses are successful. But if Arison and Carnival's executives don't care enough to appear in Giglio to speak with the survivors directly and assess the situation personally, they risk earning reputations no better than that of their arrogant and cowardly Captain Schettino. 

 

Photo credits:

Top:  News Pictures / Rex Features

Bottom:  ESPN

NCL Abandons Elderly Woman with Sick Husband in Columbia, Proclaims Its Their Fault

NCL Cruise Horror StoryA local news station in Tampa, WTSP 20 News, has a story about an elderly couple's cruise horror story. 

Betty and Ronald Coleman from Port Ritchie Florida were sailing on a Panama Canal cruise aboard the Norwegian Pearl when Mr. Coleman contracted what is described as norovirus.  NCL put the Colemans ashore in Cartegena Columbia without contacting the couple's son Mark, even though they listed him as the emergency contact on paperwork the cruise line required them to fill out. 

Ms. Coleman, who was obviously overwhelmed by trying to take care of her sick husband, complains: "My son is on the paper you sign, for next of kin to be called in case of an emergency. I would have thought they would have notified him if they are leaving me in a foreign country."  

The couple's son first learned of his parent's plight after receiving a frantic call from his mother.  She did not know where she was.  NCL subsequently told him that that she was still on the cruise ship.  Finally, Mark had to contact the State Department to find his parents.

NCL claims that it provided the couple with an opportunity to call home, but the Colemans allegedly "chose not to."   How and why this allegedly occurred is not explained.  But a cruise line should never disembark an elderly couple like this in a foreign country without first making sure that it contacted the emergency contact.  It's far fetched to believe that the couple instructed NCL not to call the emergency contact.  It's inexcusable for NCL not to have done so.  Ms. Coleman seemed stressed out and Mr. Coleman, described in the video as " . . . so sick that he could not sit up to even sign a paper," was obviously so ill NCL didn't want him on its cruise ship.  

NCL issued a completely unrepentant press release.  NCL side stepped the norovirus issue, denied responsibility for not telling the family of the emergency, and claimed that the Colemans were, in fact, "appreciative" of the cruise line agent's assistance ashore in Columbia.

  

 

The guest relations team on a cruise ship should always contact the emergency contact number whenever it forces a family off of a cruise ship in a medical emergency.

Blaming the sick elderly guest in a case like this reflects poorly on the cruise lines' manners.

For other similar stories, read:

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

The Royal Attitude

Over the years I have learned that the single most critical factor that drives clients to our office is not when a cruise passenger has been injured or inconvenienced.  Stuff happens, and most people understand that.  But when a cruise line treats passengers poorly after injuring or inconveniencing them, that's when our law firm's telephone begins to ring.

Over 75% of the cases in our office are against Royal Caribbean.  If a crew member from India or Trinidad calls us and complains that he or she were injured on a cruise ship and then dumped back home with no or poor medical care, nine times out of ten its a Royal Caribbean employee. 

Why do so many RCCL passengers and crew members sue Royal Caribbean?

The answer is what I call the Royal attitude.

Last month, the Royal attitude was on public display following the stranding of 145 passengers in San Juan when hurricane Irene was approaching. 

Unlike Carnival which contacted or at least tried to contact guests ahead of time to tell them the port authorities were requiring cruise ships to leave the port early, Royal Caribbean didn't do anything.  Carnival paid for over 300 guest's hotels and offered to fly them to the next port to meet the cruise ship.  But Royal Caribbean did not bother to have a representative at the airport or port to explain what was happening.

Its dismissive press release then added salt into the wound.

Even cruise fans were outraged.   The popular on line cruise community Cruise Critic posted hundreds of unflattering comments about Royal Caribbean's attitude.  Its editor even wrote an scathing editorial "Bad Weather Blunder: A Lesson in Cruise Crisis Control?"

The other popular cruise community Cruisemates wrote a blog criticizing Royal Caribbean entitled "Carnival 1 - Royal Caribbean 0."

Cruise blogger John Honeywell a/k/a Captain Greybeard, who writes cruise friendly pieces for the U.K.'s Mirror, added an article "How Hurricanes and Art Led to a Series of Right Royal Blunders."  Captain GreyBeard not only joined in the criticism of Royal Caribbean for stranding it guests but mocked cruise line president Adam Goldstein's decision to avoid the issue in his Nation of Why Not blog and instead write about employees delivering the "Wow factor" by finding a guest's passport on an airplane and driving it over to the port.  He also blasted Royal Caribbean for Obfuscation the delay and lack of transparency in responding to an inquiry about problems with the art vendors on the cruise ships. 

Greybeard characterized the cruise line's non-response to his inquiries as a "masterpiece of obfuscation." 

I feel your pain too Captain Greybeard.  I wrote about Royal Caribbean's skill at obfuscation last year in a blog: Royal Caribbean Press Statements And Other Gobbledygook.

Even when the cruise line changed course in response to the universal criticism and decided to offer a future cruise credit (only 30%) to the abandoned guests, it was unable to issue a clear or genuine apology - calling the incident just an out of norm fluke.   The cruise line then arranged for president Goldstein to be interviewed in the Miami Herald about his passion for running and playing ping pong.  I'm not kidding.  145 passengers stranded in a foreign port with a hurricane approaching and the cruise president is now talking about ping pong.

You can dismiss my criticisms as coming from a lawyer who sues this cruise line every week.  But when cruise fans like Cruise Critic, Cruisemates and even the affable Captain Greybeard start talkin smack about your cruise brand, Royal Caribbean may want to consider changing its attitude toward its customers.  

And the Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . . (continued)

Last year I published a series of articles about how cruise lines mishandle customer complaints and ruin their reputations in the process.

Part I of "And the Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem" series focused on the ways that Carnival and Royal Caribbean managed to botch customer problems and tarnish their images.  

Part II took a look at Norwegian Cruise Lines (NCL), which usually avoids the pitfalls of its larger competitors.  But in this case, NCL refused to refund the cruise fare of a passenger whose brother died and the funeral was on the same day as the cruise.  The guest notified NCL, asking for a credit on a future cruise.  NCL said no.  He asked for their cruise to be donated to charity (Make-A-Wish) so a child Cruise Wedding Disasterwith cancer could enjoy a once in a lifetime cruise.  NCL said no.

Then NCL re-sold the cabin to another couple. NCL got a double profit due to the death of a guest.  Ugh.

Most of the time the right thing for your corporate image is exactly the right thing to do for your customer.  But some cruise lines can't seem to get it right, which brings us to part III of the series.

Last week the Connecticut Watchdog newspaper published an article "Stranded By Princess Cruise Line."  The story involves a newlywed couple from Connecticut, Diana Benne and Adam Gompper.  Both seems like hard working conscientious types.  Diana owns a popular hair salon and Adam is a police dispatcher. 

They purchased a Caribbean honeymoon cruise with Princess Cruises.  Things started out just fine with the couple enjoying the cruise and a stopover in San Juan (photo below).  But it seems like Princess Cruises didn't inform them of a last minute itinerary change resulting in the Caribbean Princess cruise ship leaving St. Thomas early.  Even though the cruise ship was still tied to the dock, the captain would not let the couple aboard and abandoned them in St. Thomas.  It must be a sick feeling to stand on the dock with only the clothes on your back and watch your cruise ship heading out to sea.  What a way to start your marriage. 

When the couple tried to discuss a resolution to the problem, Princess blew them off.

When I read about problems like this, I think of how easy a happy resolution would be.  Refund the couple their money or give them a free cruise.  In return, you will have dedicated fans of Princess Cruises for the rest of their lives.  The proverbial "win-win" situation.  But ignore or engage in a petty quarrel with a honeymoon couple you left in a port outside of the continental U.S.?  You have earned an enemy for life.

Princess Cruises left the couple in St. Thomas of all places.  St. Thomas has one of the highest murder rates in the world.  You can read about the sad story of a 14 year old girl who was killed last year during a cruise stop-over in St. Thomas here.  

Princess Cruise Honeymoon DisasterPrincess Cruises spends tens of millions of dollars a year marketing itself as the ultimate in romantic cruise getaways.  It is known for its wedding packages and the famous "wedding cams" which you can watch online.  It is, after all, best known for the "Love Boat" television series.  

But when things go wrong on the Love Boat, issues like this are not resolved by the smiling faces in the marketing department.  They are shuffled down to the customer relations and risk management departments whose job is to deny, delay and defend.

Last week, I emailed Princess and asked for its side of the story.  I hoped that I would hear good news, like it decided to reimburse the honeymoon couple their cruise fare.  Then I could write a story with a happy ending.  Instead, I have heard nothing, which seems to be the problem in the first place.

July 16, 2011 Update:

Princess Cruises is receiving alot of bad press about situations like this.  Read: "Eunice Gayle Needed a Blood Transfusion, So Why Wouldn't Princess Cruise Lines Let Her Off the Boat?

Here are a couple other articles about Princess Cruises' approach to dealing with customer complaints:

Is a Nuclear Radiation Leak a Valid Basis to Cancel a Cruise? Not According to Princess Cruises.

British Passenger Stuck In Mexican Hospital Following Heart Attack on Princess Cruise Ship

 

Photo credit: Courtesy of Diana Beene

Is a Nuclear Radiation Leak a Valid Basis to Cancel a Cruise? Not According to Princess Cruises.

news station in Bradenton Florida is reporting on an interesting story of a Princess Cruises customer, Mr. Welt, who booked a 12-day cruise called the "China and Japan Explorer."  The cruise ship was scheduled to sail from Shanghai with three stops in Japan.

But then the earthquake and tsunami hit Japan.  Mr. Welt was initially undeterred, but he became greatly concerned as the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant leaked radiation and he read a warning by the State Department against travel to Japan.

Mr. Welt reportedly expressed his concerns to Princess, but was told that the cruise was proceeding as Princess Cruises - Japan - Chinascheduled.  A few days later, he canceled the cruise because he didn't want to risk exposure to radiation.  Two days later, Princess canceled all three stops in Japan, and added ports in China.

Mr. Welt thought that he could obtain a refund or get a voucher for another Princess cruise.  Instead, Princess charged him a $2,398 cancellation fee which was 100% price for the cruise. 

A company spokesperson, Karen Candy, claims that there are no records indicating that Mr. Welt ever called the cruise line.  Ms. Candy told the news station that Princess would have tried to re-book Mr. Welt but because he did not purchase trip insurance he was out of luck.

I looked at the terms and conditions of Princess' "Passage Contract," and it does not mention the issue of what happens when radiation poses a health risk in a particular port.  The contract states that the cruise line may "change, cancel or terminate" the cruise because of “trouble spots” in the world in terms of "war, terrorism, crime, Act of God, civil commotions, labor trouble, and/or other potential sources of harm. Local conditions and infrastructure may also create hazards to passengers while off the ship."  However, this pertains to the cruise lines' right to change or cancel the cruise - not the right of the passenger to do so. 

A passenger's best argument appears to be found the latter part of paragraph three (Notice Concerning Safety and Security).  The cruise line states:

"Carrier reminds all Passengers that they must ultimately assume responsibility for their actions while ashore. The United States Department of State and other similar government agencies regularly issue advisories and warnings to travelers giving details of local conditions in specified cities and countries according to such agency’s perception of risks to travelers. Carrier strongly recommends that Passengers and their travel agents obtain and consider such information when making travel decisions."

Of course, this is exactly what Mr. Welt did.  He assumed responsibility for his health posed by the damaged nuclear reactor and prudently considered the warning issued by the State Department in making his travel decision.  He did what the contract drafted by Princess' lawyers told him to do.  Yet, the cruise line penalized him with the entire cruise fare?  

Fukushima Nuclear Radiation - Cruise How would a judge or arbitrator rule?  Who knows.  I'm sure that Princess will be pleased to pay one of its defense firms $10,000 to $20,000 to argue that Mr. Welt should have purchased insurance (what we recommend for all passengers) and fight Mr. Welt tooth and nail to keep him from recovering his $2,398.

But what about the larger issue of customer service and the cruise line's reputation?

The article indicates that Princess has a "F" rating with the Better Business Bureau ("BBB").  Yes, its true.  The BBB indeed rated Princess a "F," finding that out of the 134 complaints lodged against the cruise line, on 80 occasions the cruise line refused to make any adjustments or simply never responded to the customer's complaint.    

Unlike the uncertainty of a legal decision any particular judge may make whether a customer can or cannot cancel a cruise because of a radiation leak, Princess Cruises' reputation is completely within the cruise line's control.  The airline and hotels were pleased to accommodate Mr. Welt, but not Princess.

We have seen Princess and other cruise lines take this penny-wise-and-pound-foolish approach before.  Yes, they can take a hard line approach and keep their customer's money most of the time.  But they risk trashing their reputations in an industry which suffers from a poor reputation in the first place.  Take a minute and read:  And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . . (involving Princess, Carnival and Royal Caribbean) as well as And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . . (continued) (NCL).

The bottom line here is that the customer did what his cruise contract required him to do.  He made his travel decision based on the State Department warning.  In return, Princess Cruises kept all of a customer's money who didn't go on a cruise scheduled to stop at a country with a nuclear reactor emitting dangerous levels of radiation. 

Princess should have at least donated the money to a relief organization in Japan.

I'd say Princess' BBB grade of "F" is well deserved.

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

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

My article on Wednesday "And The Cruise Industry Wonders Why It Has An Image Problem . . ." contained the "usual suspects" - Royal Caribbean, Carnival and Carnival subsidiary Princess Cruises - whose shenanigans have been featured in Cruise Law News over the past year.

But right after publishing the article, I read a story in the Miami Herald's "Action Line" - "Funeral Disrupts Cruise Plans" - which involved another Miami cruise line, Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL).

The story is straight forward.  A couple from Key Largo, Ms. Boland and Mr. Samuel, purchased a NCL - Norwegian Cruise LineNCL cruise on the Sky leaving from Miami with three other couples.  But Mr. Samuel's brother died, and his funeral was in Georgia on the day the ship sailed.  So the couple notified NCL, asking for a credit on a future cruise.  NCL said no. They then asked for their cruise to be donated to charity (Make-A-Wish).  NCL said no.

Then comes the sick part.  NCL then re-sold the cabin to another couple.  Yep.  NCL got a double profit due to the death of Mr. Samuel's brother.  Really sick.

NCL is active on Twitter @NCLFreestyle, so I tweeted a reference to the Miami Herald article. 

NCL - Andy Stuart - Norwegian Cruise Line No response. 

NCL's "Executive Vice President of Global Sales and Passenger Services," Andy Stuart, is also active on Twitter @nclandy .  So I tweeted him "Double cruise profit for death? Say it aint so Andy!" 

No response. 

NCL should have permitted a child with cancer and his or her parent go on a once-in-a-lifetime cruise.  Or make a small donation in memory of Mr. Samuel's brother.  But to double sell the cabin under these circumstances?

And cruise lines wonder why they have an image problem .  .  . 

 

Credits:

Photographs     Twitter