Royal Caribbean focuses on customers after outbreak

Royal Caribbean International prioritized customer relations in its communications response to about 700 passengers and crew members falling ill aboard the cruise line's Explorer of the Seas ship last month.

MIAMI: Royal Caribbean International prioritized customer relations in its communications response to about 700 passengers and crew members falling ill aboard the cruise line's Explorer of the Seas ship last month.

About 630 passengers and 54 employees, out of 3,050 people on board, reportedly picked up a gastrointestinal illness, prompting the ship to return home early from a planned 10-day cruise last week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the number of sick people aboard the cruise ship, which CNN likened to a “floating petri dish,” was the highest in two decades.

Weber Shandwick, which has worked with Royal Caribbean since 1996, handled communications in response to the outbreak, said Rob Zeiger, Royal Caribbean's VP and global CCO.

The cruise line's communications strategy was rooted in customer relations, he explained, adding that the main focus was communicating with guests on the ship.

“At the end of the day, the guests' opinions are the ones that matter the most and are going to be the most influential,” said Zeiger. “We figured if we did everything we could to treat them right, word on that would get out, and we would come out OK. Doing the right thing was the driving strategy.”

The company posted three statements on Royal Caribbean's website and circulated them to the press to update the public as the situation unfolded. It also shared developments on Royal Caribbean's Twitter feed.

After discussions with the CDC, Royal Caribbean ended the cruise two days earlier than planned to try to prevent secondary outbreaks, according to a company statement.

All affected guests will receive a 50% refund of their cruise fare, and an additional 50% future cruise credit. Guests who were confined to staterooms because of illness will receive an additional credit of one future cruise day for each day of confinement. The company is also reimbursing airline change fees and accommodations for guests whose trip home was inconvenienced by the change of plans.

The Explorer of the Seas departed the East Coast on Tuesday, January 21. It was scheduled to visit Labadee, Haiti; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas; and Philipsburg, St. Maarten. Port calls in Haiti and St. Maarten were cancelled due to the outbreak.

After returning to home port in New Jersey, a “barrier” sanitization program was enacted on the ship to make sure any remaining traces of the illness were eliminated. It was the third aggressive sanitizing procedure since the cruise ship became aware of the issue.

“Guests scheduled for the next cruise on Explorer of the Seas can be confident that all possible measures will have been taken to prevent further problems,” the company said in a statement.

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