Posted by: cruise2 | 30 August, 2011

Royal Caribbean Fails the Avis Test: “We Try Harder”

by Kevin Griffin, The Cruise People, writing in

In 1962, Hertz Rent A Car was top dog in the car rental business and Avis number two by a long shot. Hertz was spending five times as much on advertising as Avis and a new ceo, Robert Townsend, had just joined them from American Express. Townsend approached New York advertising agency Doyle Dane Bernbach and it came up with one of the most famous advertising lines ever: “Avis Is Only No. 2, We Try Harder”

Similarly, Royal Caribbean is number two in the cruise business, and a long shot behind top dog Carnival. But last Sunday, in what must be seen as a significant failure, Royal Caribbean seems to have lost its way when it allowed Carnival to “try harder” when both lines had ships embarking passengers at San Juan. With last week’s impending approach of Hurricane Irene, both lines were put into identical situations but each responded in a totally different manner. The port began to limit traffic and forced both ships to sail early to avoid the storm, which hit San Juan that evening and caused flooding and damage and cut off power to 800,000 homes.

Royal Caribbean’s 2,100-passenger Serenade of the Seas was the first to go, forced to sail at 5:30 pm, three hours before her scheduled 8:30 departure time, leaving 145 passengers behind. The unaffiliated web site quoted Royal Caribbean spokesperson Cynthia Martinez as saying “There was no way to notify our guests of this change in departure time. This decision was made by the Port of San Juan to ensure the safe transit of all guests and crew through the port.”

The result appears to be that Royal Caribbean did not attempt to reach its own customers to warn them. And according to media reports, when some of these passengers arrived at 5 pm the cruise terminal was closed and there was not even a Royal Caribbean representative there to greet them

Of its 145 stranded customers, about fifteen, who had booked flights with Royal Caribbean, were contacted and accommodated at a hotel in San Juan courtesy of the line. The rest were left to fend for themselves.

That same day, only a half hour later, Carnival Cruise Lines’ 2,750-passenger Carnival Victory was also forced to depart San Juan, in her case at 6 pm, about four hours early, stranding another 300 passengers at the Puerto Rican port.

For those who missed the ship, Carnival provided a complimentary, two-night stay in San Juan and flew those with passports on to Barbados to enjoy the rest of the cruise. Guests who did not have passports, about half of them, could not fly to Barbados and missed the whole cruise. Even so, they were granted a future cruise credit equal to the amount of fare they had paid.

Most of these were probably Puerto Ricans as there is now an inconsistency in the rules on passports. Those who fly must have a passport, meaning that anyone who flew into San Juan would have had one, but those who travel only by ship can still travel without one if they have a passport card, enhanced driver’s license or enhanced identity card. This accounts for the peculiar statistic from the Cruise Lines International Association, that 81% of American cruisers have a passport while only 51% of non-cruisers do.

But back to the case in hand, both lines learned early on Sunday afternoon that harbour traffic would be limited and both planned an early departure, Royal Caribbean three hours early and Carnival four hours early.

While Carnival offered rooms to all its customers, Royal Caribbean decided to accommodate only those who had purchased airfare through the cruise line, expecting the other 130 to find their own hotels and pay for their own air fare to join the ship in Aruba.

In view of the circumstances and the caring action taken by Carnival, not to mention the fact that airlines were waiving change fees caused by the hurricane, Royal Caribbean come away looking about as bad as it could. For a line that has been garnering so much favourable public reaction in the past couple of years, even if it was a weather-related event and it can be argued that the intending passengers should pay and fall back on their insurance, this does seem like a wrong decision on its part.

Later in the week, both ships made history when they arrived together in St Kitts on Friday, bringing several thousands of passengers to ride the St Kitts railway and go on local tours, an unusual occurrence in the summer time.

And the chairmen of the two respective corporations? While Carnival’s Micky Arison joined the world of Twitter on August 11 and now has almost 20,000 followers, Royal Caribbean’s Richard Fain was reported acquiring another $1.5 million in Royal Caribbean stock.

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