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COSTA CONCORDIA: A Public Relations Shipwreck

Costa Cruise and its’ parent company, Carnival Cruises, has royally botched its’ PR in regards to the disaster, says Gene Grabowski, a crisis management communications specialist. Grabowski says that Costa handled everything from press releases to customer service poorly, spelling disaster not just for itself but for the entire cruise industry.

“As bad as the capsizing has been for the industry and the brand, the follow-up has really done most of the damage,” said Grabowski.

The company has been criticized for its’ compensation package to travelers who were on the Costa Concordia, the ill-fated liner that crashed into the rocks off of Giglio Island in Italy and sent 4,200 crew and passengers scrambling to get to land. 16 have been confirmed dead so far, which the death toll estimated by some to be over 30. They have also tried to blame the entire incident on others, most prominently Captain Francesco Schettino. Schettino, who just passed a drug test, remains on house arrest in Italy. His criminal defense attorney has been vehemently claiming Schettino’s innocence.

Costa offered passengers of the doomed ship a full refund of the cost of the cruise and any onboard expenses, as well as reimbursement for any travel and medical expenses that arose as a result of the disaster. They also told passengers that they would make ‘every effort’ to recover items from cabin safes. The part of the deal that caused controversy was that Costa reportedly offered passengers a 30% discount on future cruses, which some found insulting. Costa denies the claim, replying through a statement: ‘With reference to news reports on discounts and promotional offers, Costa Cruises feels bound to point out that the company has never offered any discount on future cruises to guests who were on board the Costa Concordia for the cruise of January 13 and involved in the tragic accident.’

Even if the reports were unfounded, Grabowski points out that Costa’s response to the disaster in general has been rather small, and that the company has shown little real concern for the incident. “What we need is someone in authority, probably (Carnival Corp. CEO Micky) Arison at the scene, showing real concern. We need a real apology. We haven’t even had an apology, weeks later. The silence has been deafening in itself. In today’s world, silence is perceived as arrogance with the volume turned down.”

Costa has responded to the crash by issuing statements and sending representatives to speak with the press. They did apologize to passengers of the ship in a private letter written by Norbert Stiekema, the Executive Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Costa. In the letter, he states: “I want to take this opportunity to extend our most sincere apologies for the accident involving the Costa Concorida and for the suffering and inconvenience you endured as a result of this traumatic event. We realize how difficult it will be to heal from this experience and we are committed to providing you with our full support and cooperation.” Micky Arison, CEO of Carnival Corporation, has remained mute through the entire fiasco.

Grabowski says that Carnival’s attempt to distance itself will backfire. “It looks like Carnival is trying to protect its brand. Well, consumers don’t look at the cruise industry as different brands; they see it as the cruise industry. With Carnival the biggest player in the industry, everyone is going to suffer, especially Carnival,” he laments.

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