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Assessing Carnival’s Response to Crisis: Sink or Swim?

November 15, 2010
Carnival Splendor  by ecstaticist

Carnival Splendor by ecstaticist

Overall, Carnival Cruise Lines has done a great job managing the recent crisis that involved a fire aboard one of its luxury  ships, but as many PR pros know, it’s still too soon to abandon the fire extinguishers.

Background (In case you didn’t hear)
A week ago today, Carnival’s vessel,  Carnival Splendor, experienced a fire in an aft engine room. The flames killed the ship’s power leaving passengers and crew members marooned for three days with minimal food supplies, backed-up toilets and dark rooms.  Thursday offered sighs of relief after six tugboats returned the ship safely to the port of San Diego. Thankfully, there were no fatalities or serious injuries.

Praise

Appropriately, Carnival’s first concern was taking care of its guests and crew members.  Circumstances weren’t ideal on board, but passengers reported that the crew was excellent, and they felt the company was doing the best they could. Once passengers disembarked, Carnival provided hotel accommodations, ground transportation and flights home.

The cruise line was timely and transparent in keeping the public in the know, using Facebook and Twitter to quickly disseminate information.  Wisely, Carnival chose to postpone promotional contests on social media sites and focus on the crisis.

Another smart move was establishing a hotline that allowed worried family members to ask questions concerning loved ones stranded on the ship.

Earning the most attention is the candid blog of cruise director John Heald. In his posts he describes the drama that unfolded in great detail. Heald’s accounts are read with interest for being so human and honest.  Still, Heald’s blog is not an official statement from the company, and it’s important that Carnival directly make similar efforts.

Carnival is determined to make amends with passengers. As restitution, guests will receive a full refund and a voucher for a free cruise. The company is also taking care of its employees by paying them the salaries and gratuities they would receive if the ship was still operating.

Criticism

Carnival needed to make a strong statement on its personal website. Especially since this is a vehicle where the company controls its message. The company’s update on the crisis doesn’t stand out. I nearly missed the tiny link that directs site users to a little blurb that’s…well,…not very powerful. I guess I was expecting more empathy and videos of the CEO’s statements.

More could have been done in the social media realm. Loyal customers gave Carnival a lot of support on Facebook, but Carnival failed to engage in conversation with them. It’s too bad, because the beauty of social media is the ability to interact with the consumer.

Future

Carnival still has work to do. Beside countering media interviews with upset passengers, the company must continue communication and ensure safety. Passengers should be told of plans to advert a future crisis and address ways they will better control food rationing and other concerns should this unlikely incident occur again. Doing so should prevent ticket holders from canceling and encourage future bookings.

Carnival Crisis Victor

As a former wedding planner, I just had to share this story.

Kudos to the Ryde Hotel who seized the opportunity to piggyback on a national news story. When the hotel received word of a couple who was supposed to marry on the luxury liner, it leaped into action and offered to accommodate the last minute nuptials. Cathy Hartrich, hotel co-owner, assisted the couple with booking vendors at deeply discounted prices. The high school sweethearts wed yesterday. The centerpieces: balloons anchored by SPAM ,®  which was rumored to be served to guests aboard the ship.

Speaking of SPAM ,® I was really hoping they would construct a witty response to all the of attention their brand received.  Ideas are swooning through my head now.


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