Bad weather comes and goes, but memories of poor cruise experiences live on. Take the case of passengers aboard Carnival Cruise Lines’ Victory and Royal Caribbean’s Serenade of the Seas in the wake of Hurricane Irene.
Both ships were docked in San Juan, Puerto Rico as harbor officials announced the storm’s approach. The cruise lines say the ships were forced to leave early to accommodate port requests and because they needed to get of harm’s way. Hundreds of passengers, unaware and uninformed of the scheduling changes, were left behind
Carnival left 300 passengers in San Juan. Royal Caribbean stranded 145 passengers.
How the cruise lines handled those passengers – left behind in a foreign country ahead of a major storm – says a lot about customer loyalty.
Carnival Cruise Lines made sure every guest that was stuck in San Juan had two nights’ hotel accommodations and arranged to fly all 300 to the next port on the itinerary for pickup. About half of the passengers were able to take advantage of the offer. Others, who did not have passports to enter Barbados, were on their own.
Royal Caribbean left all but 15 passengers without any backup plan. The few passengers who were transferred to the next port on the itinerary – Aruba — were those who had bought airfare through Royal Caribbean. The rest of the passengers, including those without resources to pay for a connecting flight or travel insurance for back up, were trapped in San Juan during the storm and had to fend for themselves.
Royal Caribbean’s left-behind passengers say they missed the ship because they were not contacted about the schedule change. Officials of the cruise line say that letting all the passengers know the ship was headed out early was not feasible and blames the inconvenience on the port closure for the storm.
This is a PR no-brainer. Royal Caribbean had time to accommodate those passengers who had made special travel arrangements with them, but could not be bothered with those who did not. Carnival made the extra effort to treat all of its inconvenienced guests equally.
Since much of the revenue for cruise ships is based on repeat business, it makes very little sense to damage a hard-built customer service reputation. Royal Caribbean might have lost money putting up more than 100 passengers in hotels and flying them to another port, but that amount is going to be a drop in the bucket compared to the swipe it has taken in public perception.
You could certainly say that all cruise line passengers take weather-related cancellation risks when getting on board. You could also say that those passengers could have purchased travel insurance that would have covered such emergencies.
But…cruise passengers are guests.
Royal Caribbean sent a message of favoritism and neglect when it failed to care for the guests it left behind in a hurricane. Carnival faced the same dilemma with a different attitude. It did not coddle a select few passengers. It bit the bullet and took care of everyone as best as it could under extreme conditions.
Company policies require a flexible human factor. How many of those Royal Caribbean passengers do you think will ever book another cruise with that company? How many of their friends and colleagues will they tell of their experience? How much bad press will spread the news to those who are thinking of booking a cruise?
There’s a difference between doing business and doing the right thing while doing business. For Carnival, the temporary loss caused by having to ensure the welfare of its passengers will mean a long-term reputation gain. Royal Caribbean didn’t have the savvy to see the collateral damage it incurred by turning its back on its most valuable resource – its guests.