Cruise Line to Costa Concordia Survivors: How About a Discount On Your Next Cruise?


Carnival Cruise Lines, owner of the Costa Concordia, has been taking a lot of heat for its reaction to the disaster that killed at least 13 people off the coast of Italy.  The Vancouver Sun relates some of the strongest criticism:

Public relations experts have chastised Carnival for being slow to address the disaster and vague about its response and efforts to prevent similar incidents in the future.

On a scale of one to 10, with 10 being “outstanding,” Carnival’s public relations strategy in the immediate wake of the disaster gets a four, said Allyson Stewart-Allen, director of International Marketing Partners, a consulting firm.

“It wasn’t quick, it wasn’t specific, it wasn’t reassuring,” Stewart-Allen said, noting that Carnival’s first statement, released on Saturday nearly 24 hours after the Costa Concordia liner struck rock causing it to capsize, did not quote a specific person.

Subsequent statements on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday quoted [Carnival Chief Executive Micky] Arison, who has been in continuous contact with executives in Italy, but has not flown there himself.

Arison, who also owns the Miami Heat NBA team, has written six messages on Twitter mentioning the tragedy, but Evan Nierman, founder of Florida public relations firm Red Banyan Group, said that was not enough.

“If he’s the point person, I would want a constant flow of information – Twitter, Facebook, talking to reporters, letting them know what’s going on. I would have him out there in a real way. He needs to be in front of cameras, he needs to be meeting with people, he needs to show that he’s in charge of the situation.”

There are many ways in which the Costa Concordia disaster can be seen as a metaphor for the overall collapse of the West.  One of them is the institutional paralysis that gripped Carnival and its subsidiaries in the wake of the disaster.  The Western world is filled with large systems, both private and public, which don’t function very well when something major goes wrong.  It seemed fair to assume that Carnival would have contingency plans in place to handle a crisis like this… just as the passengers on the ship assumed its crew would react to the disaster with the disciplined execution of careful emergency plans. 

The people populating huge organizations in highly centralized American and European societies don’t spend enough time thinking about the unthinkable.  Meanwhile, the man in charge suddenly disappears when the bovine excrement hits the rotating fan blade.  The Wall Street Journal was moved to ask, “Where is Micky Arison?”  They concluded he’s a hands-off “delegator” who is trying to minimize Carnival’s connection to the disaster by managing from behind the scenes (and on the other side of an ocean) while the company’s Italian unit handles the situation.  Thus do the captains of industry grow increasingly distant from the helms of their “unsinkable” ships.  Jon Corzine was evidently a hands-off delegator at MF Global, too.

Author Mark Steyn, who used the “orderly, dignified, and moving behavior of those on the Titanic” as a contrast with every-man-for-himself modern society in his new book After America, found no surprises on the deck of the 21st century Titanic:

On the Titanic, the male passengers gave their lives for the women and would never have considered doing otherwise. On the Costa Concordia, in the words of a female passenger, “There were big men, crew members, pushing their way past us to get into the lifeboat.” After similar scenes on the MV Estonia a few years ago, Roger Kohen of the International Maritime Organization told Time magazine: “There is no law that says women and children first. That is something from the age of chivalry.”

If, by “the age of chivalry,” you mean our great-grandparents’ time.

[…] Sixty years later, the men on the Titanic – liars and thieves, wealthy and powerful, poor and obscure – found themselves called upon to “finish in style,” and did so. They had barely an hour to kiss their wives goodbye, watch them clamber into the lifeboats, and sail off without them. They, too, ‘ope’d it wouldn’t ‘appen to them, but, when it did, the social norm of “women and children first” held up under pressure and across all classes.

Today there is no social norm, so it’s every man for himself – operative word “man,” although not many of the chaps on the Titanic would recognize those on the Costa Concordia as “men.” From a grandmother on the latter: “I was standing by the lifeboats and men, big men, were banging into me and knocking the girls.”

There are two other parallels to the atrophy of the West floating out of the Costa Concordia tragedy.  One is that, in addition to various forms of financial assistance, Carnival has been offering psychological counseling to survivors.  That’s the way things are done in the modern world – the therapists are right behind the first responders – but it seems like an attempt to medicate outrage when the company itself is offering to send counselors, instead of picking up the tab for whatever the survivors decide they need.

Most remarkably, however, Carnival’s subsidiary, Costa Cruises, reportedly offered discounts on future cruises to the survivors.  According to the Miami Herald, the company “briefly refuted the stories, then retracted the denial.”  It’s an offer that perfectly encapsulates the numb, tone-deaf inertia of the West’s mighty institutions.