Carnival’s carelessness over the cruise ship Concordia is costing the sector dearly

February 3, 2012

If only it were possible to blame the whole Friday 13th disaster on Captain Schettino’s recklessness, Carnival – ultimate owner of the Costa Concordia – would surely have succeeded in cauterizing a brand crisis of epic proportions.

No one could have moved faster to pin it all on human error. The holding company of Costa Cruises chose its target well. As scapegoats go, Schettino is a pretty egregious one: less Captain Courageous than Lord Jim aboard the steamship Patna. Once having foundered his ship, he assured his place in infamy by abandoning it before many of his passengers.

At first, Carnival’s corporate strategy worked. Cruise bookings only shivered in the wake of the disaster – most people seeming to accept that the shipwreck was a unique occurrence. Only later did some awkward questions begin to bubble to the surface. For example:

  • How come, if Schettino was such a clown (he apparently had previous, non-lethal, form), that Costa entrusted him with the destiny of over 4,000 souls? What of the calibre of other Costa commanders?
  • How come, almost 100 years after the RMS Titanic disaster, an identifiably similar set of circumstances managed to overwhelm another “state-of-the-art” and “unsinkable” cruise ship? In both cases, the ships quickly succumbed to what should have been a containable collision; the emergency muster procedures were shambolic; and the lifeboats – of which there were not enough – wouldn’t launch properly. Perhaps the only real difference is that Captain Smith chose to go down with his ship. Not unnaturally, marine engineers have called into question the inherent safety of what, in effect, is a high-sided floating hotel whose design is heavily influenced by commercial imperatives.

I mention these things because what was formerly a crisis affecting billionaire Micky Arison’s cruise operator (admittedly the world’s largest, encompassing such brands as Cunard and P&O) has now clearly spilled into the sector as a whole.

Only this week, Carnival revealed that fleet-wide booking volumes declined “in the mid teens” following the disaster. Just as ominously, Royal Caribbean Cruises, the world’s second largest cruise operator, has reported that Q1 earnings could be up to 60% below expectations due to the fall-off in bookings. This during the so-called “Wave season”, the most active booking period of the year.

No doubt the cruise ship will re-establish itself in time as one of the statistically safest ways of taking a holiday. But not before a few more waves from this disaster have swamped the bow-deck.

Note on the image. It just proves (as I used to say when smaller-scale mishaps like this visited Marketing Week) the integrity of the editorial team. Clearly no conversation whatsoever had taken place with the commercial people. But for this to happen to the Belfast Telegraph, of all titles..! Its offices are only a stone’s throw from the Harland and Wolff shipyard which built – the Titanic. You’d think they would have learned from experience.


IBM shows what a clever clogs it is at analyzing social media trends

November 22, 2011

Did you know that the height of a woman’s heels is a reliable indicator of economic prosperity? Neither did I. I’d heard of champagne sales, the availability of London taxi cabs, the length of skirts. I’d even devised my own indicator: counting the number of recruitment advertising pages in Marketing Week during a certain week of January. But this one I had never come across.

What might be dubbed the Jimmy Choo Indicator is brought to us by those clever folk at IBM Global Business Services. Clever because, besides uncovering some heretofore abstruse economic trend data, they have also hit upon a skilful self-promotional ploy which scores on at least 2 indices. Not only have they dug up a mediagenic piece of insight (which is after all the business they are in), they have also creatively exploited social media to garner their predictive data. Which should impress clients present and prospective no end.

Ah, you say sceptically, but isn’t this just a flim-flam gimmick that doesn’t stand up to more rigorous analysis?

I’ll leave you to decide. Here’s more on the inverse correspondence between economic growth and the height of fashion-shoe heels, courtesy of the IBM website:

A look back at the last 100 years of shoe fashion trends reveals that heel heights soared during the most prominent recessions in U.S. history.  Low-heeled flapper shoes in the 1920s were replaced with high-heel pumps and platforms during the Great Depression.  Platforms were again revived during the 1970s oil crisis, reversing the preference for low-heeled sandals in the late 1960s.  And the low, thick heels of the 1990s “grunge” period gave way to “Sex and the City”-inspired stilettos following the dot-com bust at the turn of the century.

But what of the future? According to IBM GBS consumer expert Dr Trevor Davis, an analysis of the last 4 years of social media shows a potential deviation from trend:

Discussions of increasing heel height peaked towards the end of 2009, and declined after that.  For example, key trend-watching bloggers between 2008 and 2009 wrote consistently about heels from five to eight inches, but by mid 2011 they were writing about the return of the kitten heel and the perfect flat from Jimmy Choo and Louboutin.  This is not to say that the sky-high heels have gone, rather that, as the economic downturn has worn on, they are discussed as glamwear and not for the office or shopping trip.

That’s one way of putting it. Alternatively, fashionistas are just as confused as the rest of us about the direction of the global economy, and are simply hedging their bets.


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