5 Days of Carnival Hell…but the Bathrobes are Complimentary

Some companies serve as guinea pigs of how not to handle crisis brand management. Unfortunately for the 4,200 suffering passengers, Carnival Cruise Line set an example for the public relations world. The cruise line took a hit, after multiple incidents including the shipwreck of Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy, this past year. Most recently, America followed the second incident of the Carnival Triumph with horror, now commonly referred to as the “poop cruise,” after the ship lost electricity after an on-board fire. Passengers were stranded without electricity, air conditioning or working toilets for five days. As pictures of the floating cesspool emerged, the public watched carefully to observe how Carnival was handling the disaster.

Carnival Cruise Line did irreparable damage during and immediately following the days of the rescue. Often in crisis management situations, people remember how companies handle the problem more than the actual incident itself. If Carnival had handled the incident accurately and swiftly, our memories of the event could be quite different. In retrospect of the cruise disaster, Carnival took a few costly missteps.

  1. Carnival did not communicate information clearly with passengers and press about the breakdown and rescue efforts.
  2. The CEO, Gerry Cahill, was spotted at a Miami Heat game while passengers were still on board in toxic conditions.
  3. During the press conference before passengers were able to get off the ship, not only did Cahill not properly apologize and take responsibility for the events, his comments minimalized the trauma the passengers endured. He was quoted saying, “We pride ourselves in providing our guests with a great vacation experience, and clearly we failed in this particular case.”
  4. The worst public relations move of all would be the tone-deaf tweet @CarnivalCruise sent out when 2,400 miserable passengers were disembarking from the ship. They tweeted, “Of course the bathrobes for the Carnival Triumph are complimentary.”


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Public relations and crisis management should understand the importance of how one incident can affect a brand. America’s limited attention span means acting strategically and promptly. Several months later, CEO Gerry Cahill resigned and Carnival Cruise Line offered their customers a “Great Vacation Guarantee” for unsatisfied customers to be able to get off the ship within 24 hours with a full refund. Brand management becomes more difficult once the damage is initially done. Will Carnival Cruise Lines campaign to regain trust be successful? Only time will tell.

-Rachel Edwards, Ashley Creps, Dylan Fowler, and Ryan Nagy