The crisis of Carnival’s “Splendor” cruise ship was apparently a malfunction that resulted in 3,300 people stuck for 72 hours with limited food, challenging hygienic conditions, and without electricity. It was no one’s fault, yet surely constitutes a Public Relations crisis for Carnival Cruise Lines. I stand up and say hats off to Carnival for how they handled the PR surrounding the crisis.
Despite countless negative headlines, it is necessary to remember that there is no amount of publicity or spin which can make a situation like this even remotely positive. Sometimes, the goal is simply to minimize the negative and, all in all, I think Carnival handled the issues fairly well – offering full refunds along with a 25 percent discount on a future cruise to a lighthearted blog post from the Senior Cruise Director: http://johnhealdsblog.com/2010/11/10/here-i-am-2.
The piece spoke not of smelling of roses, but smelling “like Paris on a hot summer’s day …that’s Paris the city not Paris the …person.” He continued with “continuous announcements from the bridge.”
It was simply an awful situation, but I strongly commend them for telling the truth and communicating via a press release and an apology from Carnival Cruise Lines’ CEO. He spoke of the challenges on the cruise ship, which are unlike any others his company has faced in its 35-year history, and made the difficult statement, “we are very, very sorry for the discomfort and the inconvenience that our guests have had to deal with in the past several days.”
These are very hard things to own up to and many other brands would have blamed someone else, ignored the problems, or simply taken way too long to communicate (remember how long it took Jet Blue in a much easier situation ?). I commend them for their transparent and rapid-response. If I was a passenger, there would have been nothing anyone could have told me to make me understand or even tolerate the experience.
The situation will continue with a few days of negative stories from passengers on the boat, and Carnival will continue to need to address the many questions which exist. All in all, crisis is never good, but I think Carnival should be held up as an example of how to handle crisis PR.