Today I ran across an interesting video prepared by a Holland American Line passenger following the boiler fire on the M/S Westerdam.
You may recall that the Westerdam caught fire on June 28, 2014 as it was sailing to Alaska. The automatic fire suppression did not extinguish the fire and the crew had to use hoses to extinguish the fire. The fire flared up again and the crew has to extinguish it a second time. The Coast Guard forced the cruise ship to turn around and return to Seattle. You can read about the incident here.
HAL CEO Stein Kruse came aboard the ship later that night and spoke to the passengers. He said that one reason he came aboard was "to get this completely straight."
He was very apologetic. He said that one port of the seven day "full Alaskan experience" would be lost. He promised that to make up for the fire and lost port, the passengers would receive a $250 credit to use on the ship. Plus, Kruse said that in order to make amends:
" . . . we will send you a note to give a 25% discount off a future Holland American Line cruise."
However, when a passenger later tried to a buy a cruise with the promised 25% discount, a HAL customer representative told the passenger that CEO Kruse had misspoke. The representative said that the 25% discount was good only for a cruise of a comparable price as the cruise in question on the Westerdam.
Of course, this is not what the cruise CEO said. Kruse was very deliberate, careful and precise with his words. "25% discount off a future Holland America Line cruise." There were no limitations, exclusions or caveats mentioned at all.
The customer representative wouldn’t budge. She said that "our policy is that we don’t protect verbal misquotes . . . that goes from all the way from our reservations department up to our CEO."
The guest representative also referred to a "speech," which Kruse allegedly read from, which according to the cruise representative "specifically states that the credit would be from the sailing of the Westerdam." But this is not what Kruse said.
In most circumstances, cruise passengers are at the mercy of the fine print and the legal mumbo-jumbo buried in the passenger ticket. But here a cruise CEO came aboard to "make amends" and to be "completely straight" with the passengers following a fire. The CEO made a promise, not a "verbal misquote."
There is a legal issue whether what CEO Kruse said is legally binding on this cruise line. I think it is. But some other lawyer can sue HAL and argue about that. But it’s a real shame, from a public relations perspective, when the clear promises of a cruise executive are meaningless and can be easily disavowed by a low level reservations clerk.