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'Stench cruise' fallout: Will it create a stink for Carnival and the industry?

Carnival will take a hit from the 'stench cruise' ordeal, and the industry will scurry to reassure potential customers. But the impact on the growing sector should be short-lived, experts say.

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The 'stench cruise' ship Carnival Triumph is moored at a dock in Mobile, Ala., Friday.

Dave Martin/AP

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Five days adrift in the Gulf of Mexico without flushable toilets did little to please some 4,200 people aboard the Carnival Triumph.

It’s also a blow to the cruise industry and especially to a major player in it, Carnival, even though the passengers are now back on land.

At least in the short run, the event that might go down as the “stench cruise” hits the company’s earnings. It also puts pressure on the whole industry to mount publicity campaigns to reassure potential customers that maritime vacations are fun and safe.

But as harrowing as the experience was for passengers, and as publicized as it was by the news media, it’s not yet clear whether the incident will change the longer term course of an industry that’s been steadily growing its business volume for years.

“It’s a short-term blip,” predicts Ross Klein, a sociologist who tracks the industry and works at Memorial University of Newfoundland in St. Johns. But “it'll impact the whole industry,” he says, and “certainly Carnival more so than the others.”

Judging by one online survey this week, some people look at this news and say, "I'll never do that." But that's a setback, not necessarily a reversal for an industry that has been roughly doubling its business each decade, Mr. Klein says.

He notes that the industry was little fazed, in the end, after the highly publicized Costa Concordia disaster a year ago, in which a similarly sized cruise ship ran aground off the coast of Italy, leaving more than 30 people dead. The operator of that ship, Costa Cruises, is owned by Carnival.

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