Assuring the cruise industry and its ports of call

The last year has been challenging to the cruise industry. On a worldwide basis, cruise ships or cruise passengers have experienced multiple problems, not only on the high seas but also on land. Just a few examples of these high-profile cases are:

– Tourists robbed on shore excursion on the Caribbean island of St. Kitts (November 2010).

– Attacks in Matzalan (January 2011) caused cruise ships to drop that city as a port of call. Just prior to the elimination of Matzalan as a port of call, there were three reported robberies involving passengers or crewmembers.

– In Puerto Vallarta, some 22 cruise passengers were robbed (February 2012) while on what appears to be a cruise-sponsored shore excursion.

The situation on the sea has also been challenging for cruise companies. In the last few years, cruise ships have had numerous mechanical and technical problems. Among these are:

– Deal with fire on the high seas (Carnival Splendor, November 2010)

– Make unexpected repair stops (Carnival Magic, November 2011)

– Deal with cruise collisions (Carnival Fantasy and Carnival Imagination in July of 2011)

– The grounding and subsequent sinking of the Costa Concordia in January of 2012 resulting in the loss of life

– The Costa Allegra becoming inoperative in February of 2012 in Indian Ocean waters, making it a sitting duck for pirates who regularly ply these waters.

While this list is not exhaustive and does not touch upon health problems of on-board errors or even crimes, it is extensive enough to discourage the more hesitant cruise passenger from sailing. This fear of travel may be especially true for that segment of the cruise industry that is older and more fearful of travel. Despite the high-profile news that a cruise ship or cruise excursion engenders, it should be emphasized that most people have incident-free cruise vacations. The above-mentioned incidents then are the exception rather than the rule. As such, it is imperative for all aspects of the travel and tourism industry to learn from these incidents and see how they impact every aspect of the travel industry. This article then is as much about every other aspect of travel as it is about the cruise industry.

Cruises may be the earliest form of travel if not leisure travel. As such, cruises have provided great moments of luxury and also tragedy. The 1912 Titanic disaster is an example of both. Modern cruises are not only about what happens at sea but also on land. As such, the cruise is more about the experience of travel rather than the destination of travel. It is the journey that the passenger seeks rather than merely a means of transportation.

Using cruises then as a symbol of the total leisure travel industry, tourism professionals would do well to consider that:

Twenty-first century travel and tourism industries such as the cruise industry must make tourism security not only a major part of their marketing strategy, but must also be cognizant of the fact that mishaps may well end up in the courts of law. European, American, and British legal systems all have developed systems to allow disgruntled passengers to sue. As such, what happens on the high seas may have repercussions on land. Here are just a few examples of the way that the tourism and travel industry and those who work in port security need to assimilate this paradigm change into their planning and thinking. It is essential that cruise companies and ports of call establish clear guidelines as to standards-of-care, what constitutes negligent behavior, and what is the company and its subcontractors’ duty of care.

– Cruise and port officials must assume that that ports of call are not only potential terrorism targets. Visitors to these ports of call may be assaulted or even kidnapped. This statement does not mean that every port or off-shore passenger will be attacked, but it does mean that we no longer can afford to be naïve and that the cruise industry must deal with a much more dangerous world.

– The media today is highly conscious of port security. When tourists are assaulted, it not only reflects poorly on the cruise liner but on the port-of-call. In a world in which the twenty-four-hour news cycle is part of everyday life, what happens in one place is known in every place.

– Cruises professionals, like other tourism professionals, must be cognizant of the fact that both ship employees and other passengers may not always be of the highest moral standards. All too often people tend to leave their inhibitions on shore. Cruise staffs are often composed of multinational staffs. While this multi-nationalism provides a sense of the exotic to the cruise, it also means that there may be a mixture of attitudes among the staff members when dealing with the public.

– Do not create a false sense of security. Do not panic people, but deal with safety and security issues in the most professional manner possible. People begin to panic not when you take precautions in a professional manner, but when you fail to take precautions.

– Just as in other areas of tourism, cruise and port directors must develop security coalitions with all components of the cruise community. This community creation means that there must be an ongoing dialogue with passengers, with on-shore personnel, with local tourism officials, and with local law enforcement and health officials. Neither cruise ships, nor the ports in which they dock, are stand-alone communities; they are part of the total tourism industry. Make sure that your port security/police department is trained and understands tourism, and that the local tourism industry understands how it needs to cooperate with port security officers. In too many cases, port security personnel, and cruise and tourism personnel, do not even know each other’s names.

– Get over denial, it can happen to you. The best crisis management is good risk management. Recognize that no part of the world and/or any sea or airport is immune from crime and/or a terrorist attack. Cruise liners and ports of call, as in too many other parts of the travel and tourism market, have often pretended that bad things happen to others.

– Know what your tourism weak points are on your ship or at your port. For example, as people line up at ticket counters, are they secure? Is there a proper stand-off distance between check-in and drop-off areas? How easily can baggage areas be targeted and can baggage easily be stolen? How many immoral people wait for unsuspecting passengers as they visit a new port for only a few hours?

– Make sure that all police personnel and port security personnel are aware of how important tourism security is to the local economy. Most police have never been trained in good tourism security. It is essential to have a person work with your local police who can “translate” between tourism and security issues. Often, a negative incident can be neutralized with a kind word and a smile.

Never forget that:

– People working in the industry are tourism’s first line of defense. All cruise, port, and airline personnel should also be seen as security personnel.

– Good service equals good security. Make sure that people who serve the public like the public!

Last, but far from least, we all need to remember that tourism is a perishable product and that the economic consequences of a security breach may take years to heal. The entire tourism industry needs to support the cruise industry in making sure that its clients truly have a secure and positive experience.