Five Things Carnival Cruises Needs To Do Right Now

Written by Brad Phillips @MrMediaTraining on February 15, 2013 – 11:27 AM

After being adrift for days after an on board fire knocked out water and power, the Carnival Triumph cruise ship finally made its way back to shore.

Passengers disembarking the ship late last night told stories about urinating into sinks and defecating into plastic bags, waiting hours to be served a cold meal, and sleeping in a makeshift tent city on the deck to avoid the sweltering cabins below.

And the cable news networks—which covered the return of the ship with the same fanfare one might have expected for the return of the American hostages who were held captive in Iran for 444 days in the early 1980s—took a bad news story for Carnival and turned it into the most important story in the entire world. (CNN journalists should be feeling a particular sense of shame today for their absurd excess in covering this story.)

As a result of both their very real corporate crisis and the media’s excess in covering it, Carnival will have to do a lot of things right to keep this incident from turning into a much larger, longer-lasting disaster for its brand.

Here are five things Carnival should do to recover from this incident:

1. Continue to Treat Passengers Well: Carnival’s CEO boarded the ship last night to personally apologize to his “guests.” His presence was important and sent a signal that Carnival was taking this incident seriously and treating its victims well. Carnival said it would refund the full fare for its guests, pay for their transportation home, and give them a $500 check for their troubles.

2. Communicate More Quickly: Carnival got off to a slow start when communicating about this incident, taking two days before CEO Gerry Cahill finally apologized. That slow communication was a big violation of one of the seven truths of a crisis. The onboard communication was also slow; many passengers said they received their information from the news media and their cell phones, since the crew wasn’t keeping them regularly updated.  

3. Create a Passenger Bill of Rights: When Jet Blue faced its own media crisis after canceling hundreds of flights and leaving passengers stuck on grounded planes without food or water for many hours in 2007, CEO David Neeleman responded by releasing a  “Passenger Bill of Rights.” That “Bill of Rights” offers passengers increasing levels of compensation based on the length of their flight delays, and offers a good roadmap for Carnival.

4. Do a Full Investigation: This incident isn’t an anomaly. Carnival had a similar incident in 2010, and the Triumph itself had propulsion problems last month. Carnival also owned the ill-fated Costa Concordia, which partially capsized last year in Italy, killing 32. The cruise company will need to conduct a full investigation of what went wrong, make any necessary fixes, and make the full results of the investigation — as damning as they may be — public.

5. Change the Ship’s Name: Not only is the ship’s name “Triumph” tainted by negative attention but, given the ship’s track record, it seems like a bit of a joke. If Carnival doesn’t change the name, every potential customer who researches the cruise line will come across these stories. Carnival shouldn’t change the name just for marketing purposes, of course – they’ll need to make all of the necessary changes to make sure the newly named ship doesn’t run into similar problems. 

A grateful tip o’ the hat to fellow communicators Jonathan Bernstein, Jeff Domansky, Melissa Agnes, and Chris Syme, all of whom shared their thoughts with me on how to handle this crisis.

You can listen to my interview on Washington D.C.’s WTOP radio about this incident here.

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Comments (10)

  1. By Christina:

    Thank you—great post. This crisis has the potential to be a textbook case—but there is still time for Carnival to determine wether it will be an example of what to do or not do after something like this.

  2. By Brad Phillips:


    I agree with you. The verdict isn’t in on this one yet — Carnival has gotten a few things right and a few things wrong. For the sake of the passengers, I truly hope they get it right.

    Thanks for reading,

  3. By Dan Cotte:

    You make some very good observations in your piece. I woud, however, like to clarify the issue concerning the 15% off a future cruise. According to what I have read on the Carnival agent site, that 15% pertains to those passengers who were booked on the cruises that were cancelled due to the accident.

    Carnival cancelled the Feb. 11 and 16th cruise plus and additional 12 cruises from Feb. 21 to April 13, 2013. These Guests on the affected sailings will receive a full refund of their cruise fare, as well as non-refundable transportation costs, pre-paid shore excursions, gratuities, and government fees and taxes. Guests will also receive a 25 percent discount on a future three- to five-day Carnival cruise or a 15 percent discount on a six- to seven-day cruise.

    If they were offering the 15% to those who were on this cruise that ended up in Mobile, I would agree totally that it would indeed be an insult.

    Thank you for providing an excellent resource with your website, while I’m not a public speaker, it never hurts one to try and improve in our weak areas.

  4. By Brad Phillips:


    Thank you very much for your comment. I’ve gone back and looked at Carnival’s website, and you’re absolutely right. I’ve removed this line from my story: “But their offer to give a discount on a future weeklong cruise of just 15 percent feels like an insult.” In fact, Carnival is offering a credit for future travel equal to the amount paid for the Triumph cruise (in addition to a full refund). The 15 percent figure, as you correctly pointed out, is for guests whose future trips on the Triumph were canceled.

    Thanks for helping me make sure my story was accurate.

    Best wishes,

  5. By Dan Cotte:


    You mentioned changing the ships name. Carnival is in the process of doing just that with another older ship, the CARNIVAL DESTINY. She was the first 100,000 ton ship in the cruise industry around 1997 and is currently en route to a shipyard in Italy for a massive $155 million dollar refurbishment scheduled for approximately 49 days. The ship will basically become a “new” ship, hence the new name, CARNIVAL SUNSHINE. Here is a video of what is going to happen:

    It will be interesting to see, based on what the preliminary investigation of the damage reveals, on whether any additional mechanical changes will be implemented on the DESTINY/SUNSHINE project thus resulting in a longer period of time in dry dock. She will have many new features installed, but the engines are still 1997 vintage, and a cruise ship has an active service life of around 25 years give or take a few.

    As a ship buff, it will be fascinating to see what transpires in the weeks and months to come. Don’t be surprised if it takes more than a year for the final analysis and findings to be released.

    When accidents occur in the shipping industry, whether commercial or leisure travel, changes are usually made that enhances safety. Most everyone knows that after RMS TITANIC sank, shipping companies changed regulations in the number of lifeboats required, shipping lanes were moved further south to avoid ice etc. There will always be accidents, but it’s paramount that the industry learns from them, corrects them, and make passenger travel even safer that it already is.


  6. By Warren:

    Brad – Just a quick note to let you know that I really enjoyed this post. It’s timely and comprehensive. And yes, they can’t change the name of this ship quickly enough. I’m not sure if you caught the intro on SNL last night featuring two of the ‘cruise directors’? Anyway, thanks for the good read.

  7. By Carnival Triumph: A case study in crisis management | Alabama News Feed:

    […] media expert Brad Phillips offered Carnival five very blunt suggestions to help ease the company toward recovery, […]

  8. By Brad Phillips:


    Thank you for your kind comment. I hope that out of everything I wrote, Carnival takes its obligation to treat its affected passengers well seriously. I did see the SNL skit – I guess it was inevitable, but it’s yet more bad PR for Carnival (and, more broadly, for the entire cruise industry).

    Thanks for reading the blog!

  9. By Gem:

    Interestingly there’s conversation on PRDaily suggesting that the CEO shouldn’t have gone on board; that the comms person’s job is to protect the CEO from ridicule. Some of the posters are quite blunt in suggesting that those who say he should have gone on board are naive and don’t know how to do their jobs.

    On the renaming the ship, I thought that was considered bad luck?

  10. By Brad Phillips:


    It surprises me that people would be against the CEO going on board. I disagree — and the media that covered this incident gave the CEO points for showing up. What’s the alternative: going AWOL and releasing an emotionless statement from several states away? It just goes to show that you can’t please all the people all the time!

    Thanks for writing,

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