The Costa Concordia and disaster management
It’s hard to imagine how Carnival Corp. and its Costa Cruises brand could have put a positive spin on the Concordia accident, but that’s what one academic expert on tourism and economic development said they should have tried to do – and very quickly.
“They needed to immediately reassure people that [cruise passengers] are in good hands, that it’s business as usual, that the lines operate under strict regulations,” said Simon Hudson, who holds an endowed chair at the South Carolina Center of Economic Excellence in Tourism and Economic Development at the University of South Carolina.
Hudson spent several years working in the tourism industry in Europe and is the author of several books on the travel business, including “Marketing for Tourism and Hospitality: A Canadian Perspective.”
Human error involved in the Concordia disaster will dent consumer confidence in both Carnival and Costa, he said, but likely only in the short term.
“It’s like when we get a plane crash and everyone’s up in arms," he said. "The cruise industry is one of the safest ways to travel and has been very responsible over the years."
But he’s not sure that the move by Carnival and Costa to “deflect blame” onto the Concordia’s captain, Francesco Schettino, instills the level of confidence the companies should be striving for.
“To me it’s interesting,” Hudson said. “It’s almost as if they’re saying, ‘It’s not directly our fault; it’s a captain error.’ But that doesn’t give much confidence to the cruise line.
Schettino faces multiple charges after he allegedly allowed the ship to hit rocks near the Italian island of Giglio and then abandoned the vessel while passengers and crew were still onboard. He is under house arrest in Italy.
“I would imagine that Carnival and Costa will have a strategy in place, but they don’t seem to have reacted that quickly from a public relations point of view,” Hudson said.
Carnival Corp. brands last week all posted messages on their Facebook pages that addressed the lines' safety procedures. Carnival Cruise Lines went the furthest, linking to its lifeboat-drill video on YouTube and leading Facebook discussions about its safety procedures and navigational technologies.
Carnival Corp. chairman and CEO Micky Arison, meanwhile, has regularly issued statements and used Twitter posts to express the company’s concern for the families of passengers and crew who were confirmed dead or are missing.
And late last week, the company announced it would begin a “comprehensive audit and review of all safety and emergency response procedures across all of the company’s cruise lines.”
But some agents are questioning Carnival’s behavior, even while acknowledging that the captain appears to be culpable.
“I wish that Carnival Corp. would stop complaining about their financial losses [and] try to help the families who sustained such terrible losses unnecessarily,” one retailer wrote in the comment section of Travel Weekly’s Jan. 18 agent survey about the Concordia accident.
In fact, Carnival Corp. was not complaining about losses. By immediately estimating the extent of financial damage it would incur from the accident, it was simply complying with Security and Exchange Commission rules requiring that public corporations reveal such losses to investors and potential investors. But against a backdrop of human suffering, even the most mundane communication can seem insensitive in the public arena.
Another agent suggested that other industry brands should be talking about the Concordia accident, too, in a bid to reassure clients.
“Cruise lines need to address the issue of safety at sea," the agent suggested. "They need to address why the Costa Concordia incident cannot happen on their line."
On Thursday, CLIA, which represents all the major cruise lines, took a broader approach, making the case that cruising, regardless of line, is safe, during a panel at the Passenger Ship Safety Conference in London.
Other retailers who responded to the survey were clearly angry, including one who wrote this: “I think it is horrendous how Carnival Corp has handled this matter. Forget Costa… this is a Carnival company [and] they need to take responsibility! … I [will] gladly steer away my clients from the Carnival portfolio of products unless I see some quick and immediate amends made to the passengers.”
But there were also several positive observations from retailers, such as this one: “Clients are asking about any deals that may come up in the aftermath of what happened. They are more worried about [the safety of] driving their car than they are to take a cruise.”