Two ships catch fire in the middle of the night. It sounds like it might be the beginning of a bad joke. But, sadly, it is not and right now Carnival Cruise Lines is probably wishing it were some sort of joke. Two eerily similar tales from two similar companies brought out a Jekyll and Hyde comparison of what to do when faced with a corporate crisis.
February 2013 – Carnival Triumph
In February 2013, the Carnival Triumph caught fire and floundered in the Gulf of Mexico for days until it was towed back to port. While this four-day issue played out, guests were reportedly eating onion sandwiches, sleeping on open decks and making the best of a bad situation. Carnival, for the most part clammed up and offered little information until they could evaluate the damage to the ship and their reputation. The media criticized Chairman Mickey Arison for courtside photo of him enjoying a Miami Heat basketball game during the crisis—Arison own the team. The communication to their agent partners was negligible. The communication to the affected passengers on the cruise (and future ones) was confusing. Their social media channels went into radio silence while the plans for the disabled ship changed almost hourly.
Did Carnival think that if they clammed up, people would stop talking? In this day and age, people will talk about you and your brand whether you like it or not. And in order to control any social damage, you must be a part of the conversation. Incidentally, their silence hurt them in the wallet—their stock plummeted from a year-long high in February ($39.95) to just over $30.00 (an 11.54% drop). Today, it languishes around $33.00.
May 2013 – Royal Caribbean Grandeur of the Seas
On Memorial Day, the aft mooring area suffered a significant fire which was extinguished quickly (as was the Triumph fire). The ship was able to continue under its own power (unlike the Triumph) to Nassau for evaluation.
On Monday. Royal Caribbean opened up to the media, the industry, and the passengers. They immediately implemented a crisis control plan, developed a special web page for updates and became hyperactive on social media. The message was very clear about what was happening. All passengers were safe. All would receive a refund. All would receive travel back home. All would receive a free cruise in the future. And when the ship arrived in Nassau, it was met not only by their crisis team, but Adam Goldstein—the President and CEO of Royal Caribbean along with a cadre of senior executives. He personally spoke to the disembarking passengers, toured the damaged areas and offered reassurances to all parties that Royal Caribbean would be transparent and open.
Royal Caribbean also did not wait for their agent partners to flood them with questions. In quick order, they sent out a notice advising all they were doing for our mutual clients and that commissions on the affected sailing were protected and that the booking agent would also be receiving commission on the re-booked cruises.
In the end, there was no question about what was happening, how it was happening, and how you needed to find out about it. Royal Caribbean was experiencing a crisis and they took the bull by the horns and rode it out—which did not go unnoticed by the mass media.
Financially, aside from the hard costs of repair and reimbursements, they fared very well. Before the fire, their stock was trading around $36.00. After the fire it dipped to $35.00 (a 2.78% drop) and has climbed a little in the days that followed.
When you compare the methods employed by each cruise line in handling similar crises, you still end up shaking your head. There is very little that can be controlled in terms of the incident, but how you react to the incident after the fact is completely within your control. This is a great agency lesson as well. There will be times when something will go horribly wrong and you will be called upon to react.
A close friend of mine is a motivational speaker and juggler (don’t ask); and he always closes out his keynotes with two swords, some oranges, a piece of paper and a few cigarettes. He demonstrated that the swords are indeed real—and really sharp. He juggles the swords and in the process slices the oranges up for the audience tossing pieces out as he finishes up. Invariably the questions follow about how the trick is done. He explains there is no trick involved. He sliced his arms and hands many times before it dawned on him that the blades of the swords were going to cut whatever came in their way. But, as long as he controlled the handles, he was probably going to be fine. As with any crisis—small or large, concentrate on controlling the things you are able to control—and control them!