Last weekend’s tragic Costa Concordia accident just off the Italian coast continues to dominate news coverage days later, thanks to the heroic stories of passengers rescuing themselves and each other and the almost daily revelations of the Captain’s incompetence, cowardice and excuses. Carnival Cruise Lines, parent of Costa, has seen its stock price plummet. The media and financial analysts are also speculating on costs to insurers and the cruise industry in general, particularly at the height of the booking season. Cable news and investigative reporters everywhere are breathlessly reporting on such topics as the “hidden dangers of cruise ships” and “what you need to know before you book a cruise.”
From a communications perspective, the Costa Concordia grounding shows how an entire industry can be sent into crisis mode from one player’s accident. And unlike the airlines, the cruise sector is focused purely on leisure activities so taking to the water is optional and not the necessity that air travel is for the majority of fliers. Therefore, companies such as Royal Caribbean, Norwegian Cruise Lines and even Disney are scrambling to reassure the public of their safety procedures and distance themselves from the egregious missteps that took place in Italy. One can also expect that a bevy of cruise sales are just around the corner.
For companies across industries, the lesson here is to be prepared to react and react quickly and appropriately when a crisis hits a competitor. The media and public, especially in the digital age, can be fast and even reckless, painting an entire industry with one brush when there is an accident, scandal or any significant issue facing one player. This is a great time to dust off that crisis communications plan, see if it is updated to take account of social media and game plan how you would react if a Costa Concordia happened in your industry. There are times to be proactive as in the current crisis facing the cruise industry and there are times when you want to only be reactive, such as when a data breach impacts a competitor. Notice how quiet online retailers have been after Zappos’ data breach, as no one want to raise their hand to tout their security bona fides and challenge a hacker.