Costa to Concordia Passengers: “Ya’ll Come Back Now, You Hear!”
I was interested in the crisis communications response of Costa Cruises, its parent Carnival Corporation, and the cruise industry overall to the wreck of the Costa Concordia even before the latest gaffe. In a stunning new development this week, Costa Cruises offered passengers of the doomed Concordia’s January 13 sailing a 30 percent discount on their next cruise. Tasteless falls hopelessly short of properly characterizing this offer, made shortly after a 13th victim was recovered from the vessel and with 19 passengers still missing.
Even before this development, which should feed satirists and late night comedians for days, I was underwhelmed by the company’s response. Nowhere on the Carnival Cruise website will you find reference to the incident, and only by digging into the Carnival Corporation Investor Relations page will you do so. The Costa Cruise website, in contrast, does feature YouTube video excerpts from a press conference with its CEO that took place three days after the incident. However, the CEO’s delivery of remarks read in English, obviously not his first language as he pronounces lawsuit “law-sweet,” does not impart the level of personal warmth, engagement and concern that such situations demand. Still, it was a real person – at last – as for the first day and a half, Costa and Carnival communicated only through news releases. In contrast, Carnival received substantial praise for its handling of a November 2010 fire on the Carnival Splendor that left 4,500 passengers and crew stranded adrift for days. I doubt similar praise will follow this incident, despite the nifty 30 percent discount offer.
As for the industry, the Cruise Lines International Association expressed its condolences in the second-to-last sentence of a three-paragraph statement issued three days after the incident. The sentence before that statement reads: “Accidents such as this one are an extremely rare occurrence in the cruise industry, and cruising continues to be one of the safest means of travel among all types of vacationing.” I do think they might have managed to get to the condolences a bit quicker.
In Italy, Gianni Scerni, president of RINA, which is a classification organization that issues certificates of seaworthiness for vessels, including the Concordia, resigned surprisingly within hours of publication of an article in which he criticized Costa management. Scerni reportedly expressed doubt that Costa was unaware of the routine and very dangerous practice of “saluting” the island of Giglio by passing close to it, despite such incidents having been captured on YouTube and statements made by the ship’s second officer that the salute occurred “fairly often.” This dismissal could certainly be perceived, correctly or incorrectly, as the industry closing ranks to protect its own at the expense of a clear airing of the facts in this tragic story.
In the end, the cruise industry – including Costa and Carnival – are not likely to suffer much from this incident, despite the pictures that will remain in file footage and our mind’s eyes for years to come. It’s reported that just days after the accident, cruise bookings actually increased as savvy cruise regulars began seizing the opportunity to take advantage of discounts and specials being offered by nervous cruise lines.
What are your perceptions of the handling of this crisis by the cruise lines and the industry? Do you feel their crisis communication response to the Costa Concordia incident has been adequate?