The cruise industry has taken a double blow in the media, between ongoing coverage of the Costa Concordia accident and an ABC 20/20 episode last week that bashed cruising.
Though few travel agents are reporting cancellations – or even worried calls – from experienced cruisers, many are worried about the impact on non-cruisers and even inexperienced frontline agents.
Travel Market Report asked agents on our Editorial Advisory Board how they will respond to customer fears brought on by the Concordia tragedy or the 20/20 episode.
“The first thing I would do is hear out their thoughts. Let them go on. I cannot counter the sight of the ship lying on its side off the coast of Italy. I have to let them get out what they’ve got. Allow them to make their own decision – not discredit what they want to do. – Chuck Flagg, co-owner, The Flagg Agency, Canton, Ga., Cruise Holidays
“You really have to tailor it [your message] to the specific client’s fear. Listen to what they’re saying – each person may have a different fear. It may be something you never thought of.” – Amber Blecker, owner, CruiseOne, Aurora, Colo.
Explain how rare cruise accidents are
“This was an anomaly – a perfect storm of events that no one could have envisioned.” – Amber Blecker
“This was a devastating tragedy. I would say the last time a ship like this went down was 1912.” – Nancy Yoffe, ECCS, owner, Cruise Planners, Spartanburg, S.C.
Share your own story
“I tell them I was a first-time cruiser once – and I’m a father. I feel confident enough to take my family on a cruise tomorrow. I’m not going to not fly because of a plane crash or not go to Thailand because there was a tsunami there.” – Chuck Flagg
Rely on statistics and facts
“You have to listen, and you have to respond with understanding and compassion – but also be able to present the facts in an emphatic way. I mention that millions cruised last year with no concern – this was such an unusual situation. Until all the investigations are complete, you just have to go on the basics of statistics.” – Steve Lincoln, owner, Lincoln Travel, Bridgewater, Va., Nexion
“I respond with the fact that cruising is very safe, that 17 million passengers traveled last year and there were only 16 maritime incidents reported, which is an unbelievable record. I would ask somebody where can they go in their hometown that they’re completely safe?” – Nancy Yoffe
Point out human error factor
“What I tell people is that it was the fault of the captain in charge. It wasn’t because it was a faulty ship. I would say (that) unfortunately there’s going to be human error sometimes. But I really focus on the fact of how many cruises leave and go and come, and there’s never any kind of calamity like this. And they say, ‘You’re right.’” – Ellen Paderson, owner, Smiles and Miles Travel, Inc., South Easton, Mass., NEST
Predict safety improvements
“I’ll say it’s a terrible thing that happened, but it’s going to be safer now than it was before.” – Ellen Paderson
“In any industry, when there is an accident, everything gets safer as a result. There is an immediate tightening, systems are reviewed and-long term safety is improved.” – Amber Blecker
Speak right up
“I speak up when somebody says something. The Concordia story reinforces the unusual nature of this. They are comparing it to something that happened 100 years ago and killed 1,500 people. Out of 100 million passengers who have taken cruises, the injury rate is next to zero. Can you put this many people on the road and have this kind of record?” – Amber Blecker
Respond to negative coverage on 20/20
“A cruise ship is a city at sea and things happen in cities. It doesn’t preclude our staying at home and not taking vacations. It could happen on a motorcoach tour or at a hotel. The 20/20 report was misleading. Most people don’t do binge drinking and get out of line.” – Dan Ilves, CTC, MCC, vice president, sales & marketing, TravelStore, Los Angeles, Signature
Rebut the myths
“Speak up when you hear people talking (negatively about cruises). It’s important to proactively address the myths of cruising – that you will be bored, stuck in your cabin, gain weight, only old people cruise – you have the opportunities to address these concerns.” – Chuck Flagg