What a difference a blackout and overflowing toilets can make. In September of last year the headline in the L.A. Times was “Cruise industry rebounding from ship accident, woes in Europe.” The subtitle read, “Cruise reservations seem to be rising, with the drop in European bookings offset by strong U.S. sales. The Costa Concordia disaster had only a short-term effect.”
Then came the fire on the Carnival Triumph in February which left the ship in the Gulf of Mexico without power, running water, hot food lighting or air conditioning. Unlike the tragedy on the Costa Concordia, where 32 passengers and crew died, no one died or was seriously injured. Nevertheless, the proximity to US media markets guaranteed that the stories of toilets overflowing and sewage in the hallways would get full coverage on the networks, newspapers and across the internet.
A Harris poll released this week shows trust in the cruise industry in general and Carnival in particular has plummeted since the incident. Since the fire on the Carnival Triumph, America’s trust in cruise lines has dropped by 12%. For Carnival, the news is much worse. Trust in the world’s largest cruise conglomerate has fallen by 26% in the same period.
We suspect that the loss of confidence is not just a response to the Carnival Triumph fire but the cumulative effect of the string of cruise ship casualties starting with the fire and blackout on the Carnival Splendor and continuing with the sinking of the Costa Concordia, followed by fires and blackouts on the MSC Opera, the MV Azamara Quest, the Costa Allegra and a power faliure on the Carnival Dream. For the past several several years, the cruise industry has suffered a steady string of disabling casualties. The Carnival Triumph appears to have been the last straw.
The poll results suggest the industry’s reputation has been hurt more by the Carnival Triumph fire than industry watchers initially expected. In the days after the incident, many analysts at Wall Street firms and other industry observers predicted that any impact on the traveling public would be short-lived.
The poll also suggests Carnival continues to be impacted far more than its rivals by the incident. It found an additional 11% decline in the measurement of trust in Carnival over the past three months, on top of a sharp drop after the incident. As compared to levels before the incident, the measurement of trust in Carnival is now down 26%.
Measurements of trust in rival lines including Royal Caribbean, Norwegian and Holland America also remain down, though not as sharply.
The perception of quality at brands such as Carnival, Royal Caribbean and Norwegian also continues to be down significantly in the wake of the incident, according to the Harris poll. A measurement of America’s perception of quality at Carnival is now down 28% from before the incident, according to the poll.
Carnival also has suffered a 20% decline in a measurement of purchase intent in the Harris poll.
Perhaps more significantly, the poll suggests that newcomers to cruising continue to be put off by the incident. Harris says 56% of respondents who had never taken a cruise said they were less likely to take one now than they were a year ago.