"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 couple’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 understand 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.
Azamara Journey: Wikipedia / Andy03992
Jill and Dodge Melkonian: CBS NEWS
Larry Pimentel: Cruise Chat
Video: CBS NEWS