Floating at Sea: Carnival Triumph and Crisis Communications

If you’ve been paying attention to the news, you know that the Carnival Triumph is currently floating about 150 miles off the Yucatan Peninsula after an engine fire left them without propulsion and running on emergency power.

Ok, now that you are up to speed, let’s look at their crisis communications at work.

This situation is easily one that Carnival could have attempted to sweep under the rug, it wouldn’t have worked, but they could have tried. Instead, they are not only being transparent about the situation, but they are actively talking about it. Color me impressed!

carnival web site
Carnival Triumph button and question and answer page

A ship floating at sea is a big problem when you’re a cruise line, but by actively talking about the situation, and the steps they are going through to ensure their guests and crews’ safety, they are sending a clear message to past and present customers. “You matter, and while the situation isn’t the vacation you planned, we’re not forgetting about you and we’ll fix this to the best of our ability.” What more can you ask for from a company?


Right on the homepage is a yellow button with the words, “Carnival Triumph,” which links to official information on the original incident, an update to the incident, and an information on upcoming voyages that are now canceled and compensation. Again, they’re not hiding this. It’s right at the top of the page. Since writing this, the page has been updated with a statement from their CEO.

Social Media

carnival facebook
Carnival statement on Facebook

I actually found out about the Carnival Triumph from social media, and it wasn’t someone saying, “Go look at how they’re messing up their social response.” I found out from the source, from Carnival on Facebook. I read the whole post, which is quite long, but it put out the facts and needed information. In fact, I didn’t feel the need to read about the situation from another news source. If you know me, you know this never happens. I always want to know more, and I love to Google. Carnival, however, told me enough information that I felt I knew the facts. They’ve continued to post on both Facebook and Twitter, and have only posted information about the Carnival Triumph since the situation started. In fact, they just updated further with new information about taking the ship to Mobile, Ala., instead of Progreso, Mexico, and why they are doing so.


Carnival Twitter feed
Carnival Twitter feed

There are some lessons for crisis communicators and social media managers to learn here. First, be as open and honest as you can. There are situations when all the facts just can’t be told, but being proactive and releasing information when it’s appropriate is definitely the way to go.

Second, social media can be your enemy or your friend. We’ve all seen tons of examples of what not to do in a crisis situation on social media. While Carnival is definitely getting its fair share of negative comments, there are also plenty of positive ones in there, too. By talking to their audiences, they aren’t being attacked for not saying anything, or for saying it all wrong.

Third, continue to update. One and done is not the way here. As the situation evolves, Carnival continues to let people know on all channels what the current status is.

Their only faux pas? It seems they’ve started copying and pasting their latest statement to some commenters on their Facebook wall. If they showed a little compassion here, and just let people know they understand, and are doing everything possible to ensure the safety of the guests and crew members onboard, it would probably be better received. That is, as long as they don’t start copying and pasting that, too.

What do you think of Carnival’s response to their floating at sea cruise ship? Good or bad? Is there something you think they could be doing better?


5 Replies to “Floating at Sea: Carnival Triumph and Crisis Communications”

  1. This is the worst case of delusion I’ve ever seen in so-called ‘crisis management’. Was there any effort to evacuate the passengers? Any move by Carnival to reroute another one of their ships, charter someone else’s, charter other commercial vessels? NONE. They did nothing I see to actually FIX the situation with the passengers other than making sure the fire was out, to tow their ship to a convenient port, Facebook and tweet kind messages. The reality is the passenger tweets. Have we forgotten one of the linchpins of great marketing–customer service? I believe you and others have. And the CEO and head of marketing’s hankie-wringing at the dock, as passengers were not swiftly off-boarded…awful.

    Carnival deserves the derision of customers–along with the poor handling of the Costa disaster last year, which BTW was one of their ships. FYI, I worked 20 years as a marketer, manager to VP, in the travel industry (car rental, airline, business travel management). This whole thing doesn’t past the smell test, figuratively and literally. EPIC FAIL.

    1. Hi there Dee,

      Thanks for commenting!

      I would agree that the situation wasn’t perfect, but at the same time, it was an impossible situation. I can imagine that Carnival did whatever was the safest to accomplish. If they would have attempted to move all 4,000 people on to another cruise liner, that could, and probably would, have resulted in injury or death. That would have been even worse customer service. From the interviews of passengers as they offboarded, it sounds like people we’re unhappy with the conditions on board, but they were very surprised by how the crew tried to make them as comfortable as possible, entertained them and even took care of some very disgusting necessities with a smile on their face. If that is not the definition of great customer service in a awful situation, I’m not sure what is.

      I’m aware of the Costa Concordia being one of Carnival Corporation’s cruise liners, and I would agree that no part of their communications was handled well in that situation. But I’d also argue that Carnival has definitely learned from that situation, something that a lot of companies have shown doesn’t always happen. They’ve communicated freely and openly about one of their boats being crippled in the Gulf of Mexico. How many other companies would start off talking about it on social media, rather than try to keep it quiet and then answer only when there was no other option.

      Again, I agree that the living conditions on board were not ideal, but do I think Carnival tried, and has communicated well about the situation.

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