Royal Caribbean Latest Cruise Line to Sink Crisis Management

Jonathan Bernstein crisis communication, crisis communications, crisis management, crisis public relations, Crisis Response, customer service, Erik Bernstein, Jonathan Bernstein, PR, public relations, reputation management Leave a Comment

Another weak response to big trouble

You’d expect every cruise company to be well-prepared to spring into crisis management for just about any incident after the myriad troubles that plagued the industry over the past year.  But the more than 600 passengers who got way too familiar with their tiny ship’s bathroom as a resulted of a suspected norovirus outbreak weren’t getting much sympathy from the cruise line.

What makes the poor response even more unacceptable is that incidents featuring Royal Caribbean and sister line Celebrity Cruises make up five of the top 13 in a Time list of the worst cruise ship norovirus outbreaks.

Royal Caribbean’s put out two press releases on the subject now, but completely missed the boat when it came to expressing one drop of compassion in either. Here’s their first release, that went out just as news was flying around the ‘net and passengers were posting to social media about what an awful experience they were having:

Explorer of the Seas will return home from its 10-day cruise two days early, after an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness that spiked over the weekend. New reports of illness have decreased day-over-day, and many guests are again up and about. Nevertheless, the disruptions caused by the early wave of illness means that we were unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting. After consultation between our medical team and representatives of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, we think the right thing to do is to bring our guests home early, and use the extra time to sanitize the ship even more thoroughly. We are sorry for disappointing our guests, and we are taking several steps to compensate them for their inconvenience.

After returning to home port on Wednesday, Jan. 29, we will perform a thorough “barrier” sanitization program on the entire ship to make certain that any remaining traces of the illness are eliminated. It will be the third aggressive sanitizing procedure the ship has undertaken since we became aware of the issue, and will additionally provide a window of more than 24 hours where there are no persons aboard the ship, which is a significant help. Guests scheduled for the next cruise on Explorer of the Seas can be confident that all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems.

At this point, it appears that reported illnesses among guests and crew peaked during the first few days of the cruise – though, as is common with many illnesses, some additional cases are to be expected over the course of the week. Our doctors tell us symptoms are consistent with that of norovirus, but that they are awaiting the results of tests to confirm that diagnosis. Our response included flying additional medical personnel and equipment to meet the ship, and conducting additional sanitizing procedures at two of the ship’s stops.

In the end, however, the number of cases was still higher than any of us want to see. We will be cooperating with authorities and conducting our own internal assessments to make sure we are doing all we can to promote the health and safety of our guests and crew.

We are glad to see many guests are feeling better. Still, in the end, the exceptional disruptions caused by the early wave of illness meant that we were unable to deliver the vacation our guests were expecting. Therefore, we have decided that all guests on this week’s cruise will receive a 50 percent refund of their cruise fare. In addition, all guests will receive an additional 50 percent future cruise credit. Those guests who had to be confined to staterooms by illness will receive an additional credit of one future cruise day for each day of confinement on this trip. We will also reimburse airline change fees and accommodations for guests whose travel home was inconvenienced by the change of travel plans.

Sure, stakeholders want to hear what compensation is being offered, but more than that they want to know how much you care, something Royal Caribbean obviously neglected to address.

Considering the leap of faith required to even plan a cruise on any of the lines with serious crises in recent memory (read: pretty much all of them), we’d be making sure everyone was very clear on how horrible we felt about being the host of an unhappy vacation.

Sure, Royal Caribbean essentially gave passengers a “do over” cruise (assuming any of the horribly ill passengers would want to travel with them again), but did it do anything to make stakeholders, whether they were on that boat or not, feel like it cared about their feelings?  And do everything in its power to prevent such a situation from happening again, or at least handle it more effectively next time around? Definitely not.

The BCM Blogging Team

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