Opinion: Cruise industry has pulled together following Costa tragedy

Opinion: Cruise industry has pulled together following Costa tragedy

By Bill Gibbons, director, Passenger Shipping Association

In  nearly 40 years in the travel and transport industry I’ve seen many major incidents which have knocked consumer confidence in a product or service. Each time there have been important lessons learnt and a need for the industry to pull together to set the issue in context and to restore confidence.

In the past three weeks the cruise industry has come under not just UK, but global media scrutiny and we will all learn lessons from this incident. However I’d like to thank the global cruise industry for pulling together incredibly quickly to put in place crisis plans and to explain just how rare this incident has been and to call on legislators to move quickly to respond.

Our first reaction to the Costa Concordia incident was shock that this could happen. As a global industry we carried approximately 100 million passengers between 2005 and 2010. During that time there were just 16 recorded fatalities as marine casualties.

The PSA issued the first of many statements on Saturday morning to express our deepest sympathy for anyone affected and also to reassure the world how rare an incident of this nature was.

I did my first media interview at 11am on Saturday 14 January and more than 40 broadcast interviews over the hours and days that followed including Sky News, BBC News, BBC World News, BBC World Service, BBC Radio 4, BBC Radio 5 CNN, ITN, Bloomberg and others.

But let me assure you it wasn’t just the PSA speaking on behalf of cruising. Individual cruise lines have also given comments and fielded experts and captains. ACE issued guidelines to help agents advise customers. Cruise specialist journalists such as Jane Archer spoke clearly about the sector.

However, as everybody will be aware, this is a crisis of global interest and so we've also been working closely with the Cruise line International Association (CLIA) in the USA and the European Cruise Council (ECC) in Europe to share messaging for media and all industry members.

Working as a global communications group, the three industry organisations set up a global media briefing session in London which was attended by more than 60 UK and international media. Expert spokespeople flew in from overseas and the event was held within an existing annual safety cruise conference.

The event was livestreamed online and had a live ITN feed for international broadcasters to take extracts. There was a simultaneous translation service in Italian and other languages. This was all arranged in two days and attended by media from countries such as Germany, Italy, Spain, Switzerland and the USA.

At the same time as the media briefing in London, similar media events were held by key industry organisations in other markets in Europe and the USA. For example, a CLIA press briefing in New York watched the live broadcast and then debated the issues raised.

The streamed event was then available for media and industry to replay. Footage was made available to the industry and many follow-up interviews were held with a range of spokespeople from captains, to ship design experts.

During all of this we were giving cruise members daily updates of messaging and coverage, liaising with ECC and CLIA so the global industry was talking with the same clear voice.

Individual cruise companies have also shared their own safety video footage, reviewed their own crisis procedures and reassured customers and agents. We have posted an updated consumer safety fact sheet on our web sites. The industry has also announced an operational safety review of all its procedures.

These are still early days.

We need to understand how our agents, customers and potential new-to-cruise customers will react in the longer term and ensure we’re addressing any concerns. So we’re listening. A long-term global communications plan which takes this incident into account is already being planned so we are thinking ahead for recovery as well as handling immediate issues.

It is still too early to say how this will affect our industry. But I can say with complete confidence that I know cruise companies, cruise associations, cruise agents and all our industry partners will continue to work together as a team through this.

We shall continue to reassure all our industry partners that cruising remains one of the safest holidays and that lessons to be learnt from this tragic incident will be swiftly implemented.

On behalf of the entire cruise industry I’d like to thank everyone for their strong support.


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