Cruise line loyalty to employees seems like it’s at an all-time low.

Yesterday we reported that Carnival Cruise Lines unceremoniously ended its retirement benefit program for its crew members on its 24 cruise ships, leaving them feeling shocked and betrayed.

There is always a cheaper way of doing things, isn’t there?

It seems like many cruise executives spend most of their time scheming on how to increase profits by laying off employees and then looking to Cruise Line Call Center - Royal Caribbean - Guatemalathird world countries for cheaper labor.

Travel Weekly reports today that the new UK and Ireland managing director of Royal Caribbean International is trying to reassure agents about the outsourcing of its UK call center to Guatemala.

Stuart Leven told Travel Weekly that Royal Caribbean was busy training the new Guatemalan call center staff and he would soon visit the Central American center.  

Travel Mole reported earlier that Royal Caribbean planned to shrink its UK and Ireland guest and trade services center with the loss of up to 100 jobs. The center for Royal Caribbean, currently based in in Surrey, will be operated in Guatemala.

I suppose that this is an integral part of the "globalization" of the industry. Money saved yes, at the expense of terminating loyal employees. Not to mention running the risk of demoralizing the remaining staff and offering substandard services.

I hope the sales office in Guatemala works better than the service center in India I have to call when I’m having a computer problem.

 

Photo Image Credit: The Guardian

This morning two news articles caught my eye.  The first one from an Australian newspaper – "Cruising Boom: 20 Million Take to the Sea" – and the second one from one of my favorite newspapers, the LA Times – "Cruise Industry Rebounding from Ship Accident, Woes in Europe."

These headlines seem incongruous given the fact that the Costa Concordia remains capsized on its side as a continuing reminder of the deadly cruise disaster (image today).    

The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) does a very good job promoting statistics showing the growth of the cruise industry via press releases. Today we are learning that some 20,000,000 people took a cruise last year – a record year for cruising.  According to the Sydney Morning Herald:

Costa Concordia - Giglio"A record 20 million people took a cruise last year, an increase of almost 2 million, according to the latest industry figures. While North America (11.5 million) and Europe (6.2 million) are the main markets, the Australian cruising market grew by 30 per cent, to more than 500,000 passengers." 

That’s good news for the cruise industry and travel agents who make a living selling cruises. But last year, of course, was pre Costa Concordia disaster.  What are the prospects for the cruise industry post Costa Concordia?

According to the LA Times, the future of the $37 billion industry looks bright.

A survey of 300 travel agents in North America in July found that 64% expected bookings in 2012 to surpass last year’s numbers.  And plenty of new cruise ships are coming on line with 19 ships being added or slated to come on line in 2012 and 2013 (a rather surprising number to me – is this right?) 

The newspaper interviewed Stewart Chiron, owner of CruiseGuy.com, who I bump heads with regularly on Twitter, saying "the impact of the Concordia on North America was almost nonexistent."  That is a hard concept to wrap my head around – 32 dead including Americans with no effect on U.S. cruise sales? In my view, if this is true it reflects that Carnival (which has over 100 cruise ships) and the cruise industry can weather almost any storm provided that they remain immune from paying U.S. corporate taxes. 

The newspaper concludes that cruise reservations are rising, and the drop in European bookings are offset by strong U.S. cruise ticket sales. The bottom line according to Times? The Costa Concordia disaster had only a short-term effect.

It seems to me that the LA Times article may be a tad optimistic, but who am I to rain on the cruise industry’s good news? I was disappointed to see that the Times interviewed mostly just a cruise CEO, a travel agent and a cruise specialist without including an in depth analysis of the cruise lines’ financial status.      

It’s kind of like writing an article about the prospects of a professional football team and then interviewing only the team’s owner, players and cheerleaders.   

 

Photo credit: Giglio News

This year has been a public relations mess for the cruise industry.

2012 started off with the January Costa Concordia disaster, followed by a series of articles and TV specials about cruise ship engine failures, fires, sexual assaults and controversy over the cruise industry’s manipulation of the new cruise safety law.

Just the other week the cruise industry’s best friend, the Miami Herald, published a critical article stating that "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." 

Costa Cruise Ship Collision But yesterday the cruise industry tried to turn the bad press around. The Cruise Line International Association (CLIA) released a press release stating that it polled 300 of its 16,000 CLIA travel agents and over one-half of them claim to be "doing better than last year."

But let’s take a look at the actual poll.  The percentage who claim to be doing better is only 51.9% which, if accurate, means that 48.1 are doing no better or even worse than last year.

Of course, the CLIA poll is not scientific, or quantifiable, or verified by a third party.  Even if it were, there would still be a margin of error, something like like 4-5%.  So the notion that over half of travel agents are really enjoying increased bookings is a rather dubious proposition at best.

But that did not stop Reuters from writing a promo piece for CLIA "US Cruise Industry Sees Increased Bookings for 2012." Reuters ran with the conclusions on the CLIA PR release that ticket sales were up and then quoted the CLIA CEO Christine Duffy characterizing the Costa Concordia disaster as "a very isolated event and not indicative of how the broader cruise industry operates."

Other travel publications then quickly fell in line and reported that cruise ticket sales were up. 

Breaking Travel News reported "Cruise Lines International Association Finds Optimism in Industry;" Travelers Today published "Cruise Bookings on the Rise in 2012 Despite Costa Concordia Incident;" Travel Agent’s Report stated "Agents’ Cruise Sales Are Outpacing 2011;" and the Sun Sentinel reported "Cruise Agents Optimistic About Sales, Survey Says."

Its a fascinating process to watch a cruise industry, battered by bad press, create its own happy news and then feed it to the press as a newsworthy event.