Cruise line public relations 'disastrous' expert says
Angela Mulholland, CTVNews.ca Staff
Published Wednesday, January 25, 2012 6:07PM EST
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 7:15AM EDT
Reports that the operator of the Costa Concordia is offering survivors of the Jan. 13 grounding a 30 per cent discount on any future cruises is yet another example of how badly the company is fumbling its public relations, says a PR expert.
Costa Cruises is promising to refund all survivors the full cost of the cruise, and reimburse any travel and medical expenses incurred as a result of the grounding. According to some reports, it is also offering survivors a 30 per cent discount on future cruises.
Many survivors say the offer is downright insulting.
Costa says while it is offering refunds to survivors, it's denying reports it's also offering them discounts on future bookings. It calls the reports "disgraceful and unfounded."
Gene Grabowski, a communications expert who specializes in corporate crisis management, says the cruise company is simply making a bad situation worse.
"In the middle of a crisis -- and we're still in the middle of it -- this is not the time to be marketing and trying to differentiate yourself. This is the time to stay silent," Grabowski told CTV's Canada AM Wednesday from Washington.
"Once it passes, then you put your emphasis on marketing. Right now, all it does is remind people of how dangerous and sometimes inconvenient and dirty travelling on cruise lines can be."
Grabowski says the way the company has handled the Costa Concordia grounding has just been "disastrous."
"As bad as the capsizing has been for the industry and the brand, the follow-up has really done most of the damage," he said.
Grabowski says Costa Cruises and its parent company, Carnival Cruise Lines, have erred badly by not getting in front of this story and making a public statement right away.
"What we need is someone in authority, probably (Carnival Corp. CEO Micky) Arison at the scene, showing real concern. We need a real apology. We haven't even had an apology, weeks later," Grabowski lamented.
"The silence has been deafening in itself. In today's world, silence is perceived as arrogance with the volume turned down."
Grabowski says it's important in times of crisis for companies to take control of the disaster's "narrative" and the pictures. With this crisis, the only pictures the public has been seeing are the capsized ship and distressed survivors, he says.
Carnival has not only hurt itself, it's hurt the whole industry by not handling this disaster better, Grabowski says.
"It looks like Carnival is trying to protect its brand. Well, consumers don't look at the cruise industry as different brands; they see it as the cruise industry. With Carnival the biggest player in the industry, everyone is going to suffer, especially Carnival," he says.
Sixteen bodies have been recovered so far since the Concordia ran aground and capsized off the Tuscan island of Giglio on Jan. 13. Seven of the bodies remain unidentified and are presumed to be among some of the 17 passengers and crew still unaccounted for.
Teams from a Dutch shipwreck salvage firm are getting ready to begin operations to remove 1.9 million litres of fuel from the grounded cruise ship
Actual pumping of the oil isn't expected to begin until Saturday, but a barge carrying a crane and other equipment has hitched itself to the toppled ship, while divers are making underwater inspections to identify the precise locations of the fuel tanks.
The ship's six fuel tanks will be tapped and outfitted with hoses to vacuum out the oil. The pumping will continue 24 hours a day, barring any rough weather, and could take a full four weeks to complete.
Franco Gabrielli, head of the national civil protection agency, told reporters Tuesday that once the six tanks are emptied, 50 per cent of the fuel aboard the ship will have been extracted.
The search and rescue operation for bodies will continue in tandem with the fuel removal operation.