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Friday, Dec 1, 2023

Calming Rough Seas

I don’t know whether to congratulate or feel sympathy for Gordon Ho. You probably don’t know who he is, but he’s got a very responsible job and an impeccable pedigree. He was appointed in June by Princess Cruises in Santa Clarita to the newly created position of head of global marketing, public relations and digital activities. He certainly has the background for it, having spent 18 years at Walt Disney Co., where he last served as executive vice president of worldwide marketing of the Mouse House’s $4 billion Disney Studio Home Entertainment Division. Oh, and as for the credentials, he graduated from Stanford and has a Northwestern MBA. Well, if last week was any measure, he may need all that firepower. For anyone paying the least attention, the latest big black eye for the industry came from Norway’s Royal Caribbean. The line’s Explorer of the Seas was carrying more than 3,000 passengers and 1,100 crew members on a 10-day Caribbean cruise that departed from Bayonne, New Jersey late last month when a gastrointestinal virus spread to nearly 700 passengers and crew members, according to media reports. Now, I don’t really have to tell you just how awful that could be. After all, despite the sophisticated design and technology behind modern day ships, some passengers need Dramamine even when they are not sick. One passenger who said he became ill along with his wife for three days and was confined to his cabin, told CNN: “I don’t know if I’ll ever see the inside of another ship again, while it’s in the ocean, put it that way.” Ouch. So that’s why I feel for Gordon Ho, who we spoke to for this issue and is overseeing a $20 million marketing campaign, the largest in the history of Princess Cruises. (See article, page 4.) And, of course, that’s not to mention the even bigger stories spawned when the Carnival Triumph had to be towed back to an Alabama port last summer after losing power and functioning toilets, which allowed the media to quickly dub it the “poop cruise.” That one hit a bit closer to home, since Princess is a subsidiary of Carnival Corp. & plc, which is the world’s largest operator of cruise lines and befittingly has dual headquarters in the U.K. and Miami. In case you didn’t know, one of the corporation’s subsidiaries is Costa Crociere, an Italian line that operated the infamous Costa Concordia, which lost lives when it ran aground off the coast of Italy two years ago. So, let me stop here, and be very clear. I’m not trying to imply that the errors made by the captain of the Italian ship mean it’s unsafe to take a cruise on Princess. Indeed, odds are very much in your favor that you will totally enjoy any cruise you go on, if that’s your thing. I’ve been on an ocean cruise aboard Celebrity Cruises. We sailed from Miami to the Cancun area and hit several Caribbean islands. And even though I prefer active vacations, the food, vistas and entertainment were all first class. But one thing I couldn’t out of my head was how our nearly 1,000-foot-long ship was more like a floating Hilton Hotel than a vessel actually plying ocean waters. Indeed, that’s been the direction of the entire industry: build vessels that are larger and larger for vacationers who might be fearful about getting on ships or being sea sick. And indeed for years, the industry has been phenomenally successful doing this. According to one trade organization, the U.S. industry achieved more than 2,100 percent growth from 1970 to 2010, as passenger counts grew from a modest 500,000 to more than 14 million 40 years later. Well, do I really have to tell you that all growth comes at some cost? What was a modest industry with far smaller ships has become a huge industry with gigantic vessels. So when a virus hits or there’s an electrical malfunction, problems become magnified. The industry has now become one of the media’s favorite whipping boys and I almost apologize for jumping on board. The essence of the problem is this. For years, the industry created an image for itself as a perfectly safe place for the masses to see exotic lands without the kind of risks that might come from actually staying abroad. Now, the huge growth in fleets and ship size has inevitably caused its own set of problems. And in the public mind, the industry’s carefully created image as a safe haven is being chipped away at by story after story about one mishap after another. So, as I said, I’m not implying Princess isn’t a wonderfully operated cruise line. But Gordon Ho certainly has his work cut out. Laurence Darmiento is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at editor@sfvbj.com.

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