As the Carnival Triumph incident played out on television screens around the country last week, it was the second year in a row that a major event disrupted the normal "fun in the sun" approach of Wave Season promotions.
Last year in January, Costa Concordia ran aground off Giglio, Italy. Tragically, 32 passengers lost their lives and many others were injured in that accident. Fortunately, no one was injured or killed in the Carnival Triumph fire last week.
Still, the U.S. Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board continue their investigation into the circumstances surrounding the Carnival Triumph fire, now believed to be the result of a leak in a fuel-oil return line. And agents can likely expect the U.S. Congress to hold hearings on the incident.
What's the business fall-out, if any, for travel retailers in North America? Is this incident impacting Wave Season sales? Are clients concerned? Will there be a short-term or long-term impact?
Here's a snapshot of comments and personal opinions we received from trade groups, agency owners and individual travel agents for their opinions.
Debbie Kirk, Hertzog Travel, a Travel Leaders agency (www.travelleaders.com/lynnwoodwa) in Lynnwood, WA, hasn’t seen any disruption in cruise sales due to the Carnival Triumph situation. “I think people are viewing these as isolated incidents,” Kirk says.
She mentions that her agency “really hasn’t heard any concerns, but we’re mainly listening to their opinions.” Kirk said the type of client who may be most impacted, perhaps, would be new cruisers, but not those who have cruised throughout the years.
“Overall, I think people view cruising as being a safe way to travel," she says. "I don’t see this as having a long term impact, especially if the cruise line responds with appropriate compensation to the passengers who were affected. “
As for Carnival response to the situation, “it’s hard to say what could or should have happened here,” Kirk says. “Each option would have presented its own challenges – such as no passports for some on board if docking in Mexico."
Kirk continues: "Of course in a situation like this, my personal opinion would be for them to make their final call based on the well-being and the safety of the passengers onboard, and not based on what might save the most money for the cruise line. It appears that this is what they ultimately did.”
Brad Tolkin, co-chairman/CEO, World Travel Holdings (www.worldtravelholdings.com), a company which owns multiple travel brands including CruiseOne and Cruises Inc., among many others, says it’s too early to know the full impact of the Carnival Triumph situation, much as it was in the first few days after Costa Concordia’s accident.
Still, “I believe the impact will be short-term and that it will be mostly felt with first-time cruisers,” says Tolkin. “Experienced cruisers know that this is an isolated incident.”
His agency groups did have some customers onboard the Carnival Triumph last week. "We have proactively reached out to all passengers and have worked well with Carnival in resolving all inquiries to date," he says.
Tolkin stresses that the safety of the passengers was the number one concern and that “Carnival made decisions with this top of mind. We have only heard amazing stories about how the on board Carnival crew performed and we applaud them and everyone involved in training the staff to maintain the ultimate service in very trying circumstances.”
Phyllis Dale, co-owner/travel specialist, Great Escapes Travel (www.phyllisdale.com), Lake Mary, FL says that: “First and foremost, everyone returned safe. Second, we have to praise the crew. They went ‘over and beyond’ to help the passengers even though they were not getting rest. Their cabins were extremely hot and enduring the same conditions.”
Third, she said agents and consumers need to remember the hundreds of ships that cruise everyday with no problems. Fourth, she believes Carnival will look into this thoroughly and whatever happened to cause this situation, will be corrected.
“Years ago, I had an evacuation experience in Antarctica,” said Dale. “It was definitely not part of a journey I had planned for. However, I knew I was safe because the officers and crew cared about our lives."
Dale says people don't have to be on a ship for something unplanned to happen. She believes an uncomfortable situation can happen anywhere, even at home. She says the cruise experience will always be a favorite way to vacation.
Murray Lundberg, cruise counselor, Cruise Explorer Travel (www.cruiseexplorertravel.com) of Whitehouse, Yukon Territory, Canada, says he quit selling Carnival two years ago after his first - and last - Carnival cruise on Carnival Destiny.
In his opinion, that cruise was “poor in every respect, to the point that if it had been my first cruise, it probably would have been my last.”
Lundberg, who’s been involved with the Alaska cruise industry for 22 years and spent the past four years as a cruise counselor, says “this disaster with the Carnival Triumph has confirmed that deleting Carnival has been the correct decision for my clients."
He says that has lost him a few bookings with people who want Carnival and couldn't be convinced to switch to a reliable line. He usually recommends clients sail on such lines as Royal Caribbean International and Princess Cruises.
Alicia Philpott of America’s Travel Co. (www.aliciaphilpott.atcallegre.com) in Eutawville, SC, expressed her concern to Travel Agent about what Carnival is doing or what she as an agent can do to keep her group bookings intact.
She has two group bookings this year and two next year on the line. She's concerned about them sticking. “Are there any incentives I can give?” Philpott asked. “I’m already getting calls to cancel individual cabins on the cruise. This is a mess.”
At our request, we asked Carnival to contact Philpott to discuss the situation. Rob Huffman, regional vice president for the southeast, contacted Philpott a few days ago regarding her inquiry about incentives for her group travelers. But they apparently were not booked on Carnival Triumph and some were traveling over Memorial Day.
Huffman explained that the line’s immediate focus is working with thousands of travel agents who need to re-accommodate guests who were booked on those now-cancelled Carnival Triumph sailings.
“Rob suggested she contact him in the future to see about any promotional offers that may be available,” said a Carnival spokesman. Travel Agent has asked Philpott if she's satisfied with the response and will update this article when we receive her feedback.
Rich Skinner, co-owner, Cruise Holidays of Woodinville, WA (http://woodinville.cruiseholidays.com) says “our store is currently enjoying very strong Wave Season sales, so any near-term impact has yet to be felt from the Triumph debacle."
But, he notes that "for the second year in a row, the industry’s largest cruise company has put a serious damper on booking first-time cruisers.”
Skinner says repeat cruisers and those people they refer to his agency are paying little or no attention to the continuing news. “Most of our clientele isn’t attracted to Carnival or Costa, so the impact to us is minimal,” he told Travel Agent.
That said, he also said, “it seems that Carnival has become a lot less agent friendly under the current management, and obviously they didn’t learn enough and make enough changes from the Splendor situation a couple of years ago to make much difference with the Triumph—or better put, the Carnival Defeat.”
Steve Loucks, chief communications officer, Travel Leaders Group (www.travelleaders.com), Plymouth, MN, responds that his firm's bookings have been very strong and robust this year to date.
“Since the event has just occurred…it’s probably too early to tell what the full impact could be,” Loucks tells Travel Agent. As of yet, Travel Leaders Group’s bookings haven’t been impacted, according to Loucks, who reports: “We are not seeing cancellations.”
Christy Jourdan, whose bills herself as "Your Vacationista” at Ships and Trips Travel (www.shipsandtripstravel.com), Sacramento, CA, has had quite a few clients ask her about the Carnival Triumph situation.
Most, she says, agree with her perspective that it’s a horrible thing to have happen on one's vacation, but it was an accident and accidents happen.
“No one was in danger, and I am confident that Carnival did all it could to assure that their guests were taken care of to the best of their abilities,” Jourdan says, adding that everyone knows people who are prone to a disease she calls “righteous indignation,” otherwise known as “Well, I never!”
Jourdan says these people see everything from a minor setback to a major catastrophe as a personal attack; they're the same folks who typically sue for "pain and suffering."
“These are the people who are never 100 percent satisfied, whether it’s a week at a fine hotel or a cruise ship, or a night at the spaghetti dinner fundraiser for a local school," says Jourdan. Even if these folks represent only 10 percent or so of the population, she believes, "unfortunately, they will be the voices heard on our 24-hour news cycle.”
Could Carnival have done anything differently? “In life, we all go through situations that we wish we had done differently,”acknowledged Jourdan. “With life experience we learn how to handle things, and we learn from one event how to better handle the next."
Overall, though, she stressed her 100% trust in Carnival, “because they have the same goal as I do - to provide a fabulous experience so that clients come back time and time again, and tell all their friends and family what a great time they had. So I'm confident that Carnival did everything it could for the ship and those people.”
Last week, many agents and agency owners commented about the Carnival Triumph situation on Travel Agent's Facebook page. You can peruse those comments here: www.facebook.com/TravelAgentMagazine.
What's your perspective? Is this situation impacting sales this week? If so, do you think it will be a short-term situation or a longer term concern? How are you dealing with it? Let us know your thoughts.