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“All Publicity Is Good Publicity?” Not if You’re Carnival Cruises!

February 26, 2013

It’s rarely a good thing when Saturday Night Live features a skit about you – and it’s covered by the UK’s Daily Mail, among 87,000+ others:

Or when Travel Market Report interviews travel agents with clients aboard Carnival Cruises’ ironically-named Triumph (which made headlines for nearly a week in the aftermath of an engine fire that left the troubled ship without air-conditioning, sufficient food and sanitation). One agent noted her clients would probably be ready to swim to shore, once the ship was in sight of land!

And it’s never a good thing when a simple Google search on the words “Carnival Triumph” produces 20,900,000 results featuring the terms “nightmare,” “raw sewage,” “floating toilet” and “grotesque conditions.”

Carnival was generous in its compensation, beyond what they were legally required to do, which will certainly mollify some passengers.

But days without comment from the company lead to a barrage of bad press, and could have been short-circuited by the same statement of Carnival Cruises’ President and CEO Gerry Cahill finally released  – in a near-masterpiece of understatement! – as the ship approached shore in Mobile, AL, where 200 Carnival employes waited to assist the 4,000+ passengers and crew:

“We know it has been a longer journey back than we anticipated at the beginning of the week under very challenging circumstances,” said Carnival Cruise Lines president and CEO Gerry Cahill in a statement. “We are very sorry for what our guests have had to endure.”


From a crisis communications perspective, no official communications from Carnival for too long – and the sighting of Carnival’s owner Micky Arison enjoying a Miami Heat basketball game during the ordeal – were strategic missteps.

As CNNMoney headlined, Carnival’s CEO is loud about his NBA team, quiet about his company, noting that neither Arison nor Carnival responded to questions sent by CNNMoney, and that Arison has been silent during prior Carnival disasters, including the grounding of the Costa Concordia last year, and when an engine fire in 2010 left 4,500 people drifting in the Pacific for three days on another of their ships.

Reaching out to passengers and the media when trouble began could have forestalled some of the negative coverage, which is predicted to affect other cruise lines. Reports that the ironically-named Triumph experienced mechanical problems on other recent cruises added to the perception that Carnival had been slipshod in its maintenance.

To be continued…likely for many months!

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  1. Oh, No, Carnival: Not AGAIN! | It's a crisis! NOW what?

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