As intense media coverage focuses on Costa Concordia’s accident off Giglio, Italy, a week ago, the trade is taking stock of what’s ahead.
Not all the facts are known, there is much speculation, and it’s likely the accident will continue to snag headlines and tweak consumer interest weeks, months and perhaps even years out.
An extensive investigation, as well as several legal cases, are likely. Fuel off-loading starts from the ship tomorrow. So where do agents go from here? We look at some facets of the post-accident time frame.
Cruise Line Policy Changes
Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) has asked the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the group that sets global standards for the safety and operation of cruise ships through the adoption of resolutions, regulations and treaties, to review the post-accident investigation findings from the Costa Concordia investigation by Italian authorities.
It wants the IMO to evaluate any findings to determine if changes are needed. That’s admirable but could take time. Some lines – seeing the accident aftermath and comments made by guests onboard Costa Concordia – are moving much more quickly to change the obvious.
Today, Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent company of Oceania Cruises and Regent Seven Seas Cruises, said, effective immediately, all its ships will hold guest muster drills on the day of departure. Both lines said they currently hold muster drills on the same day as the departure, with just a few exceptions. But now, even those exceptions will be gone.
“On just a handful of occasions the drill is held the following morning, primarily to accommodate late-arriving guests,” stated Robin Lindsay, executive vice president of vessel operations for Prestige Cruise Holdings. “However, in light of the recent tragic event, Oceania and Regent have adopted a new policy that requires all muster drills to take place on day of departure.”
In its release, the company also said that all officers and crew who have specific safety functions, such as evacuation leaders, boat commanders, fire teams, and lifeboat launching teams, regularly conduct simulated emergency training drills.
This is normally one of the more active advertising periods of the year for the industry, but during this year’s Wave Season, some lines are opting to tone things down a bit – or take a brief respite out of respect for passengers, crew and those who lost loved ones onboard the ship.
That’s not unlike the airline industry, when some airlines take a one-week break – pulling any ads -- before coming back to the marketplace.
For example, “Carnival Cruise Lines has suspended broadcast and digital advertising as well as direct mail for the time being,” said Vance Gulliksen, a company spokesperson.
Similarly, Cynthia Martinez, a spokeswoman for the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd. brands (Royal Caribbean International, Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Club Cruises), said: “Yes, all three brands have ceased advertising for the time being.”
Last week Travel Agent noticed a sizable drop off in press releases flowing from most cruise lines, but today received several from luxury lines focused on new programs or promotions.
“What I am hearing from agents is zero effect on bookings and my agency along with what I hear from Uniglobe shares the same experience,” says Chris Owen of ChrisCruises.net.
He had two readers of his on-line blog say they’d cancelled and were concerned about cruising. They were first-timers. That said, they did not rule out sailing again, but said just not right now.
From Owen’s perspective, “inquiries are about as normal, ships are filling up as normal, maybe a bit ahead of normal, for summer sailings. I can't say as this has had any effect at all [booking-wise at his agency]."
Putting Things in Perspective
Bud Darr, formerly of the U.S. Coast Guard, who is CLIA’s director of environmental and health programs, stresses the industry’s very good safety record.
Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., concurs: "Most travelers are educated on the rarity of situations like this."
At year-end 2010, the cruise industry carried 14.8 million guests worldwide, according to CLIA’s Year-End Passengers’ Carrying Report. The vast majority of those people sailed safely on their vacation. For 2011, the total was approximately 16 million.
Travel Agent has learned – from an industry report by G. P. Wild (International) Ltd – that five passengers or crew members died in 2010 on ships. Three died on Costa Europa in a collision and two on the Louis Majesty in a bad storm.
No deaths whatsoever were reported in 2010 or 2009, according to the same source.
Injuries for guests and crew were 127 in 2010; four resulted from a collision, three from an equipment failure and the rest from storms encountered by three different ships.
For 2009, there were three injuries – two by fire and one by a storm/list. In 2008, there were 50 injuries, all from two P&O Australia ships encountering storms.
In contrast, 10,839 people die annually in drunk-driving crashes in the United States - one every 50 minutes, according to statistics cited by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD).
If agents wish to watch last week’s media briefing on cruise related safety issues and procedures, visit www.europeancruisecouncil/mediabriefing. The discussion focuses on everything from life jacket positioning to lifeboat lowering and muster timing.
Expect a Lengthy Investigation
When accidents happen, truth is often among the victims, at least initially. Speculation runs rampant, and conflicting stories leave consumers wondering what really happened.
It can take extreme care and a thorough investigation to put together a timeline and an accurate look at what really happened. For example, the United States’ National Transportation Safety Board, which is charged with investigating maritime, railroad and aviation accidents in the United States, tells media on its Web site: “The NTSB will not announce the cause of an accident while on scene. Indeed, the cause may not be determined for 12 to 18 months after the accident.”
Italian government policies may vary somewhat, but typically an investigation is a painstaking process, with multiple phases. But when the investigation is over, safety regulations may be improved or policies overhauled in some areas. The goal is a safer environment for all.
Here’s one example to discuss with clients. When your clients sit on an airplane, they may view exit row seats as a simple nicety that will give them more leg room. In reality, those seating requirements -- such as the need to speak English, be of a certain age to sit in that exit row, and able to perform functions including opening the door – developed from a mid-1990s US Airways accident in Los Angeles. Many passengers survived the accident, got up out of their seats and died in the aisle of smoke inhalation as people on that exit row didn’t know how to open the door, didn't act quickly, and time ticked away. The exit row was also too narrow.
“Every accident presents an opportunity to learn and grow,” notes Wall, who says he still believes cruising is one of the safety vacations out there. Hopefully as the Costa Concordia accident investigation proceeds, it will be even more so.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for our ongoing coverage of the accident, investigation and aftermath.