Carnival Crash Needs an Industry Response

Some crises are bad news for an entire industry, not just for the unfortunate company that is directly affected by a natural disaster, accident or act of malfeasance. Such is the case with Carnival Corp.'s luxury liner Costa Concordia, which crashed into a reef off the Tuscan coast on Jan. 13 and remains partially submerged. The entire cruise industry has taken a hit, and would do well to work together to restore its reputation (and share prices) as a safe travel option.

Carnival Corp., the world's leading cruise line operator, has laid the blame for the accident that has so far left six dead and many more missing on the captain of the Costa Concordia, after changing its story at least once, according to the New York Times. The company accused the captain of deviating from a fixed course to "show off" the boat, the Times reported.

This accusation from above will not go a long way toward mollifying fears of travel by luxury liner; to the public there is no difference between the fleet, the captain, the food servers on board and the CEO. It is all one brand and, in this case, all one industry. Obvious questions spring to mind: What kinds of pressures was the captain under to display the Costa Concordia in this fashion, if true? Is this a common occurrence? Do captains of luxury liners typically stray from a set, computerized course? Perhaps this accident could have happened to any luxury liner owned by any of the leading fleets. Blaming one captain won't answer those questions.

Bloomberg reported on Jan. 17 that Carnival Corp. CEO Micky Arison has taken charge of the crisis response. So far the press conferences in Genoa, Italy, have been headed by a regional CEO, but visibility from Arison will send a message that the company as a whole bears responsibility for the accident. In a Jan. 16 company statement, Arison said, “At this time, our priority is the safety of our passengers and crew. We are deeply saddened by this tragic event and our hearts go out to everyone affected by the grounding of the Costa Concordia and especially to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives. They will remain in our thoughts and prayers.”

Beyond making a personal appearance in Italy, Arison and his corporate communications team might consider reaching out to their competitors and making a public show cooperation. The industry—not just Carnival—should make it clear that it is doing all it can to avoid a similar tragedy.