Norwegian Cruise Line Drowning in Bad PR


Norwegian Cruise Line is being called "heartless" after the cruise-ship company refused to let a New York couple rebook a summer vacation after their 5-year-old son was diagnosed with cancer.

The parents of Nicolas Colucci said that Norwegian Cruise Line has  refused to accommodate them, citing its cancellation policy, according to Fox News.

Colucci was scheduled to take the family-friendly cruise starting on June 1, but on May 19 he was diagnosed with a cancerous tumor in his liver. He had surgery a few days later and is still undergoing chemotherapy.

Norwegian says any cancellation within 14 days or less of the sail date is subject to a 100 percent cancellation fee. Now, the boy’s family is out $4,000.

The cruise line issue a statement to “Fox & Friends” saying, “Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with the Colucci family and we wish Nicolas a speedy recover…After reviewing the request of the Colucci family, we spoke with the family and explained that while we couldn’t make an exception to our policy, we would assist them when they were ready to re-book their cruise.”

Compare that to the statement from Tara Colucci, Nicholas’ mother, who told MyFoxNY late last week: “I just never imagined, especially a company as big as Norwegian, that they would be so heartless, basically.”

Who do you think wins that PR battle?

Companies have to follow protocol. But if there ever were a reason for communicators to cite an “exception to the rule,” this is it—cutting through the red tape to accommodate a seriously ill child.

Brands and organizations need a tripwire in place so that when special cases materialize PR managers are made aware of the situation and given authority to make a decision that will reflect well on the company. Otherwise, the company comes off as an ogre—or worse. What is more, it gives competitors a chance to fill the void (not to mention take some mindshare in the process).

Indeed, after the MyFoxNY story, the CEO of another cruise line (which has not been indentified) reportedly called the Coluccis and offered them a free cruise with Nicolas and Nicolas’ younger brother when they are ready.

PR is as PR does.

Follow Matthew Schwartz on Twitter: @mpsjourno1

  • mark

    It doesn’t take much to tarnish a reputation that takes a company a lifetime to build. Maybe they should have stop, drop and roll before they made that decision. They actually squandered their chance to add to their reputation as an honorable company. I would like to think the person at the helm of this one would know by now the effectiveness of Social Media. One story is all it takes to start a story nowadays. Now, there are always two sides to a story and I think we just got one. And never forget there is always someone out there ready to eat your lunch.

    My humble opinion is that NCL could actually turn this into a huge upside by working with Make-A-Wish on some sort of three day adventure – Just saying.

  • mediaguy1

    I understand that companies have protocols and policies that have to follow, but this would have been a perfect opportunity, as you say, to cut through the red tape and go the extra mile to accommodate a guest, especially a sick kid. Just look at this from a purely economic PR/advertising perspective: Money saved, 4k; Result: a lot of bad PR and potential lost revenues. Think about the hundreds or maybe thousands of people
    fighting with cancer that had traveled or are thinking about traveling
    with NCL. For them this story is personal and they might reconsider re/booking with this company. Finally, not identifying the other company that offered the free trip gives the perception (accurate or not) that it cares about the kid and not the free great PR it could get from this.

  • monicaricci

    What a crappy thing for NCL to do. “After reviewing the request of the Colucci family, we spoke with the family and explained that while we couldn’t make an exception to our policy, we would assist them when they were ready to re-book their cruise.”

    Um yeah you THINK they’re going to RE-BOOK on NCL?? Seriously. It’s PR disasters like this that astound me, especially when the RIGHT thing to do was the easiest thing. Give them a credit for the money they paid and allow them to re-book later at no charge and with no penalty. Duh.

  • Melessia Jones

    I happen to actually agree with NCL. And yes, I do have children. However, when I went on my cruise, I purchased the travel insurance which is not expensive and protects the traveler against this EXACT thing. If NCL was to make an exception to their policy for “just this once”, in my opinion it would open pandora’s box to everyone who felt they deserved it just as much as this family did. It is an unfortunate situation what happened to them and one that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, but it all boils down to everyone is offered the chance to purchase the travel protection and this family chose not to…that is not NCL’s problem. As unfortunate and heartwrenching as this situation is for the family, it is not a unique situation. Families everyday are struggling with a loved one being stricken by this horrible disease, if NCL bends the rules for this one, where do they draw the line.

  • jaebre

    I actually support NCL here. I’ve worked in a couple of different industries that are based on butts-in-seats/rooms, and you have no idea how many people try to get out of their reservations without paying. Obviously, terrible things can happen to people. And a young child developing cancer is pretty high on the list of terrible things. But should a company be required to take a financial loss because something happened to a customer that had absolutely nothing to do with the company’s actions?

    Once you open up for making exceptions to the rules, to have to make an entire framework for how you handle exceptions. And not every exception request is going to qualify. You have to draw the line somewhere, so someone is always going to be mad and going to the press claiming the company is cold-hearted.

    As others have pointed out here, this is exactly what travel insurance is for. Travel insurance is a lot like renter’s insurance for an apartment – it is little-known and highly underrated. And most people just pass on it because it isn’t required.

  • garfeimao

    NCL was in the right, there are way more sick people traveling ‘one last time’ with their families than you might believe, so to say yes would open the flood gates and put a cruise line out of business. Travel Insurance exists for a reason, people think it’s in case of ‘cancellation’ as if that were a planned event, when it usually happens by complete accident for medical reasons, natural disasters, etc. When a cruise line has little chance of refilling that space, they have to protect themselves, travelers should also always consider protecting their vacation investment. The old ‘but I don’t intend to cancel” or the ‘we are all healthy, nothing is going to happen” just isn’t true, but too many people have to have something like this happen to them to understand that fact.

  • E

    It is sad that this family chose to not purchase insurance. While it all to easy to take shots at NCL, they did what they had to do. I have asked this many times. Should I cancel all my insurance policies for my car, my home, my travel, etc and if anything goes wrong, am I entitled to have my problem solved by some one else. There are too many people in this world not taking responsibility for their own mistake and then crying to the social and other media trying to suck in people that like to feel good about themselves by supporting them.