Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Royal Caribbean's Handling of the Brilliance of the Seas Situation - It Did The Right Thing, So Why the Negativity?

On December 13, 2010 Royal Caribbean's Brilliance of the Seas encountered totally unexpected rough seas and high winds, but not your normal weather...weather that if known ships would do most anything to avoid. 

According to reports on CNN a "low-pressure system left a wake of destruction as it moved across the region, producing 48 sustained hours of severe weather conditions...In the port city of Alexandria, strong winds and heavy rains contributed to the partial collapse of at least 28 buildings".  The Port of Alexandria was closed and one ship sank (though the crew was saved). 

During the storm, Brilliance of the Seas encountered huge  waves and repeated rolling up to 15 degrees (which seems a lot steeper when you experience it than it sounds); and the rolling condition was probably exacerbated when the ship reduced speed during it abandoned attempt to enter the soon to be closed port.  This resulted in lots of broken glass and overturned furniture, the closing of the teen disco, video arcade and spa and minor injuries to up to 60 people.  (Fortunately the worst injuries were two people suffering from an unspecified broken bone.) 

Cruise lines' knee-jerk reaction is to immediately provide an onboard credit and Royal Caribbean in turn immediately offered a $200 onboard credit.  To be sure, that was not sufficient compensation and the person that decided that was the right thing to do probably needs to get a job in a field other than guest relations. But as time went on (and truly not that much time) Royal Caribbean decided the right thing to do was to refund the entire cruise fare.

I find it interesting that most folks perceive that Royal Caribbean folded to pressure rather than it decided that it was the right thing to do.  The issue here was not merely missing a port or hitting some rough seas, it was about the guests being subjected to an extended very scary situation which resulted in some injuries and lots of inconveniences.

In addition, Royal Caribbean is dealing with international clientèle and the laws in Europe are significantly different than they are here in the United States.  Hence its legal obligations are different.  How do I know this?  I am a member of the International Forum of Travel and Tourism Advocates.

This raises issues on three fronts: 

1.  What is the legal obligation due to the passengers under the applicable laws?

2.  How to deal with differing legal obligations to various guests on the same ship? 

3.  What is the "right thing to do" from business, marketing and moral standpoints?


When one considers the fall out from what is perceived as insufficient compensation, one might just consider that Royal Caribbean weighed the situation taking all factors into account - which takes some time to truly understand...it is not instantaneous - and determined the compensation was appropriate on a number of levels.

In October 2010 the Regent Seven Seas Voyager was disabled at the pier just as a cruise was about to commence.  While I wrote an extensive piece on the various issues, which you can read Regent Seven Seas - Cruise Canceled, in another post I wrote the following:

It is mind-boggling to me how compensation equal to nothing more than an invitation to spend more money with Regent (i.e. the $1,000 future cruise credit) can be seen as anything other than "snow in winter". Similarly, offering to fill otherwise unsold berths on close-in sailings (they would be empty anyway) but only if you waive any form of actual compensation is no better. I do not run Regent and cannot tell you how or why this decision was made (bean counters?). What I can do is compare it to what its competition does. What I do know is that if Seabourn is in an oversold situation, it provides voluntary guests willing to change plans not only return of the cruise fare, but a complimentary cruise along with some other benefits. To me the Regent situation is worse...because the guests were already there and had no choice. I just don't get it.


Shortly thereafter the Celebrity Century suffered damage to one of its propellers shortly after the cruise started (which you can read about here) and it provided its passengers with a full refund and a 25% future cruise credit...far more generous compensation than Regent Seven Seas offered it luxury guests.  And, to be sure, it is greater compensation than the Brilliance of the Seas passengers received as there is no future cruise credit component.
 
Now,with an admittedly scary situation, Royal Caribbean (which owns Celebrity) promptly steps up and refunds the cruise fare due the incident clearly ruining the cruise for many of its passengers and within argument of its legal obligations to many of its passengers. (And it avoids the publicity nightmare of offering European passengers compensation x and US passengers compensation y...not that I perceive that would have every happened.)

The negative spin I keep reading boggles my mind.  Does this open the floodgates for greater compensation if ports are missed?  Why compensate for rough seas because people should know better?  Heck, the passengers may be should have thought twice about booking a Med cruise in December.

Why can't it just be said, "Royal Caribbean did the right thing.  It is refreshing, welcome and hopefully a signal that at least some cruise lines get it"?