There's a lot of potential for crises in the travel business than most outsiders realize, either from equipment problems like Qantas experienced and Carnival's Splendor fire to natural disasters like the Icelandic volcano that disrupted travel to and from Europe this spring and the Indonesian volcano that erupted this week.
The combination of smartphones and social media makes it very easy for stories to get out to a wider audience than would have been possible just five years ago. We can expect that these kinds of stories will continue to generate noise, and companies need to prepare for that eventuality -- as opposed to hoping that the public's interest and appetite for such news will wane.
This week's two crisis alone provide an incentive for travel companies (but not just travel companies) to update their crisis plans to make sure they address social media as a communications vehicles, something Qantas did not do. (See, Five Lessons on Twittering During a Crisis: Lessons from Qantas.)Here are some lessons learned from Carnival's response:
- Carnival did a good job using Facebook and Twitter. There were regular updates on Carnival's website, and links posted on Facebook and Twitter. Carnival might have posted more frequently than once or twice a day, but it did respond when someone said the link to the Splendor's status was not working. (When I clicked on it, the link worked.) And the company posted more frequently as the Splendor reached San Diego.
- Carnival did a good job when it posted links to the on-board blog post written by Splendor's cruise director, John Heald. The post was positive but also acknowledged the reality, noting: "most important facts and those are that the ship is safe, the guests are safe and that nobody was injured in what was a very difficult situation. I also want to tell you that the guests have been magnificent and have risen to the obvious challenges and difficult conditions onboard."
- Once Carnival started reporting on the Splendor, the company halted its regular promotional posts -- the ones highlighting locations, ships, even a regular weekly contest -- clearly recognizing that business as usual was not appropriate while a ship was stricken. That was a good move.
In terms of what's next: I think there's some concern about the conditions, and whether or not the ship really turned into "passenger hell," so a lot of the immediate coverage will focus on those conditions. The fact remains that the passengers and crew were safe -- that's important.
Carnival should continue to use social media to communicate any feedback the company gets from passengers -- and already there's a lot of positive feedback on its Facebook page. I think the company should report back on any lessons learned, perhaps something like, in the even a ship is similarly disabled in the future, Carnival will get non-perishable food other than Spam and will develop a process so that people don't have to wait two hours in line for Spam sandwiches.
It's been a busy week for travel crises and social media. There are certainly things that Carnival can improve -- what other lessons do you think are important, please let me know,
(In the interest of disclosure, I've had past connections to Carnival, but I do not and have not worked for the company. )