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iSpy #8: Power Outage on Cruise Ship Makes for 4,000+ Unhappy Passengers

November 18, 2010

Crisis: Carnival cruise ship loses power while at sea, leaving the nearly 4,000 people onboard without air conditioning, hot water, working toilets and fun.

Principle:  “Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it.” 

            A fire onboard of a Carnival cruise ship led to a complete power outage which left it stranded off the coast of Mexico.  The fire, which took place in one of the engine rooms, knocked out the ship’s air conditioning, hot water, telephone service, and toilet function.  Running only on emergency auxiliary power, the ship, known as the Carnival Splendor, was left adrift 55 miles off the northern Baja California coast for several hours until the Coast Guard could come tow it back to port.         

          The guests were told to congregate on the ships upper deck and were not allowed to return to their rooms until many hours after the initial outage. They were given bottled water and cold food, provisions that the U.S. Navy airlifted onto the ship along with other basic supplies. 

          Carnival pledged to reimburse the Splendor’s guests for all of their travel arrangements and provide them with a free cruise of equal value in the future.  The cruise line also canceled all of the Splendor’s scheduled trips until Jan. 16th, 2011, so that the ship can receive all of the necessary repairs and safety inspections.  Guests that were booked during that time will receive a full refund of their cruise fare and air transportation costs, along with a 25 percent discount on a future cruise.  

          Alright Carnival, that’s great that you want to reimburse the Splendor’s unlucky passengers and offer them another free cruise.  But I know that if I was onboard that ship during the power outage and I had to be stuck onboard with 4,000 smelly, hungry and angry people, a free cruise would NOT cut it!  It’s hard to make time for a week-long family vacation when you have to juggle work, school, sports teams or other extracurricular schedules.  Carnival needs to really do its best to make amends with the thousands of unhappy guests whose vacation plans were ruined. 

          The company issued a press release and is working to apologize to each individual guest, but I still have a feeling that these efforts won’t cut it.  Whatever it does end up doing, Carnival needs to realize that it needs to conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it, because for the next few months, Carnival Cruise Lines will be the LAST company passengers will want to book their vacations with.

Question for the class: What kind of PR tactics would you recommend Carnival use in order to rebuild its relationship with the Splendor’s unhappy passengers?

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