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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Been on my mind for a while

 Note: All quotes in this blog are from the link,


When the Carnival Triumph was floating aimlessly at sea a month ago a lot of thoughts were going through my head. I have sailed with Carnival 3 times now, and as recently as last December. The experience is very fresh. 
Shit happens, as I mentioned in this blog a month ago.

Any number of bad things can happen to a ship when it is out at sea. The worst case scenario is a Titanic type accident, like the one that happened in Italy. Luckily in that one most got away alive and okay. Some did die, but it could have been a lot worse. The reality is though that sort of accident is highly unlikely to happen.What is likely to happen though is that ships will get stranded, or some virus will come over the ship and many people will get very sick. Both of those things have happened before and will happen again. The key is to at least make the best of it. You can't stop the engine from breaking down, or a terrible virus from spreading. But you can at least be prepared for it and minimize the damage.
When I wrote the previous blog, I had intended to make some points about what could be done to avoid this type of thing in the future. I will do that now here.

What are some simple things that a cruise line can do to make sure they are prepared in the event of another ship stranded at sea?

"The ship had no working toilets, sewage dripped from walls, and the whole place smelled “like a hot port-o-potty.” Here’s $500 for your troubles."

1) Food. 

There is simply no excuse to not have enough food to feed the passengers. None. The fact that people had to line up for hours to get a ketchup sandwich only means one thing: Somebody should be fired for letting that happen. If you have ever been on one of these large ships then you know how big they actually are. Many describe them as floating cities. The average ship carries 8000-10000 people each trip. Within these ships is tons of storage space they barely use. 
That space can easily be filled with dry goods that can feed thousands for a week. Granola bars. Cereal. Crackers. Potato Chips. The list is endless. Sure, it isn't steak and baked potatoes like you get in the dining room every night, but it is still good food. Good enough to at least keep people happy. To not have this precaution is simple negligence and poor planning.

"Calamities like the Triumph can obviously be bad for the cruise line at the center of the storm. They can also damage the cruise industry as a whole. In the aftermath of the sinking of the Costa Concordia—which just “celebrated” its one-year anniversary last month—cruise prices decreased by 12%."

2) Safety

It would probably cost around 2 or 3 million to get all the passengers off the boat to safety within 24 hours if that was necessary. That sounds like a lot of money, but it isn't to a cruise line that makes 500 million plus each year in profits. In reality, because they did not do exactly that, and just left the passengers stranded, it cost them much more in lost customers for the next 2 or 3 years. Probably in the neighborhood of 50 to 60 million, likely more. It would simply be a wise investment to have some sort of backup plan to get the passengers off the ship quickly and safely in the event of a ship breakdown like the Carnival Triumph had. Not to mention what it is now going to cost to repair the cabins that were damaged because the passengers remained on the ship. In fact,  the whole boat may be ruined because of it.
When we were on the last cruise, they tethered in Grand Cayman instead of docking. That basically means they float at sea, close to the dock and a smaller boat comes to taxi you from the boat to the dock and then back. These smaller boats can easily take 250 people at a time. Most can take more. If they only contracted 10 of these boats, they could have almost all of the passengers off the boat and on dry land in less than 12 hours. These smaller boats actually move faster than the big ships. Unless you are very far out at sea, there is a port somewhere that they can get you to. It is very doable. If the cruise line wanted to do it. And they should. It is just good business all around and not like they would have to do it often.

"Nonetheless, airlines often do offer passengers hotels, or at least bottled water and snacks, when flights are delayed or cancelled. Cruise lines often do offer customers refunds, vouchers or discounts on future cruises, airline and hotel reimbursements, or other forms of compensation when a cruise itinerary is changed or half the ship’s passengers are hit with a virus.

Why do they do so, then, when they’re not required? As mentioned above, it’s in their business interests to do so. “Carnival isn’t required to do anything,” said consumer travel advocate Christopher Elliott. “It appears to be acting only because of the intense media scrutiny.” Cruise lines and airlines take action because they want to minimize the damage and avoid lawsuits, with the idea that hopefully not too far in the future the traveling public will forget the whole thing happened."

3) Washrooms

One of the biggest issues on the Carnival Triumph trip gone wrong was that when the engines went down, the power went down and the washrooms in the cabins did not work. That is something that is probably inevitable. The question is: What to do about that when it happens?
Again, as I mentioned earlier cruise ships are huge. They could easily have public washrooms on each level (in addition to the ones they have now in the normal course of business) that would be able to accommodate the needs of the passengers. These would have their own power supply and generators. What would this mean in terms of cost for the cruise line? It means giving up one or two cabins per level, per side. Probably around $30,000 per cruise in revenue. That is a small price to pay to make sure that human waste isn't pouring into cabins or people have to shit into plastic bags. Of all the things I heard on the last cruise, that was the worst of it. Just clearly unacceptable.  

4) BBQ, propane

One of the main reasons that people couldn't get fed was not the lack of food (although that was part of it) but that they had no power to cook it. Again, so much storage space. Why not have some portable BBQ's that run on propane. Works for me in my house. Why can't it work for a cruise ship? Costs nothing to do this. One time to put them there, and they sit until needed. Simple problem, simple solution. No need for anyone to go hungry. It is just basic "what if" planning, which sadly the cruise ships seem to be sorely lacking. They spend the majority of their time trying to figure out ways to get you to spend more money. They should spend more time figuring out how to make sure you want to keep coming back. A big part of that is word of mouth. Right now, people who went hungry are telling their friends to go to a Club Med and not take chances on a boat.

5) Engines

Power was lost when the engines went down. Maybe it is time to design the boats better. Separate the engines so that all of them are not connected in the event of a problem. I am pretty sure that if the boat was at 50% power, it could at least keep heading in the right direction, slower, and keep feeding the passengers and providing basic needs services. 

"Considering the horrendous conditions aboard the Triumph—rotting food, backed-up toilets, awful smells all around—this is one cruise industry black eye that’s likely to be remembered for a while. By most accounts, the staff aboard the Triumph maintained their professionalism throughout the ordeal and tried to help passengers as best they could. “The crew was always smiling,” one passenger said, according to USA Today. “They need a huge raise.”
Unfortunately for Carnival, and the cruise industry as a whole, this same passenger also had this to say after finally getting off the ship: “This is my first and last cruise.”

6) Training

If you have been on a cruise, you know most of the staff are very low paid and receive very little training, other than how to clean tables and find ways to make more money for the cruise line. Don't get me wrong, most of the staff is very friendly and willing to help you. But they can't. They are not trained to do so. They should be. They should be very competent and each should know exactly what they have to do when something happens so it goes as smoothly as possible. There should be a concrete plan and it should be executed.

 "Scores given to Carnival Cruise Lines for Quality, Trust, and Purchase Intent were the lowest in the industry to begin with, and they declined more substantially than other brands after the Triumph fire. Carnival’s Trust and Quality ratings dipped by 17% and 18%, respectively, and perhaps most importantly, Purchase Intent was down 13%.
What’s more, the BrandIndex, which tracks consumer perception of brands and overall “buzz,” indicates that Carnival’s reputation took a beating after the Triumph fire. “The [Carnival] brand has experienced one of the steepest drops in consumer perception for a brand since the twin crises of BP and Toyota in 2010,” a BrandIndex report states."

Most of these are simple things that would not cost much but would protect the customer from what some had to experience.
 If the cruise ship industry wants to survive the next incident, and the incident after that it is just good business to do this. The public needs to have the confidence that if something goes wrong it will be looked after in a way that doesn't end up like the Carnival Triumph did. As a former customer of Carnival, I have lost that confidence. Hence, they have begun to lose money.

Regardless of the “news” that cruise sales remain stable, and possibly even quite strong, the results of a new Harris Interactive poll indicate that the perception of Carnival and the larger cruise industry has, in fact, suffered lately:
“Not only is purchase intent in decline for Carnival – it’s down across the industry’s top brands, on average,” points out Harris Poll Insights Vice President Deana Percassi. “What’s more, while purchase intent is dropping for some brands, those lost potential sales are not being captured by any of the other tested cruise lines. Those potential customers are simply sailing away.”

And it never had to be this way. If they simply took some simple steps to prevent what ended up happening, nobody would really care. Accidents happen, shit happens. But again, it is how you react and plan for them that makes the difference.

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