External crises can force companies to make consternating choices.
Royal Caribbean has come under fire for continuing to dock its cruise ships on the Haitian peninsula of Labadee in light of the devastating earthquake. An article in The Gaurdian, later picked up by The Huffington Post and the LA Times travel blog, among other outlets, questions whether passengers should be sunning themselves and enjoying cocktails on the beach when so many are suffering in Port au Prince.
It’s a sticky situation for Royal Caribbean. On the one hand, they’ve used their cruise ships to deliver pallets upon pallets of supplies and drinking water for the residents of Haiti. They’re bringing economic activity to Labadee, where hundreds of Haitians rely on tourism income to feed their families (in fact, it’s probably less a matter of the positive economic impact of the cruise passengers than it is the avoidance of the negative impact should the cruise ship divert to somewhere else and thus leave those who depend on tourism revenues in a lurch). Royal Caribbean has also pledged $1 million in relief to Haiti.
Opinions are flying around the Internet and in the media as to whether RCCL is doing the right thing. Passengers themselves are divided, and some refused to disembark during the Labadee visit and stayed on the ship. Others are glad to be spending their money and be involved with the relief effort. Some have made the argument that Haiti (and for that matter, most Caribbean vacation destinations) was abjectly poor and in need before the earthquake, yet that didn’t stop cruise ships from docking there and passengers from visiting.
It’s a reputation management nightmare. There’s no clear-cut “right answer” that will make all RCCL stakeholders happy. Royal Caribbean made its decision and while many are supportive of their efforts, some are swearing off the cruise line and calling it insensitive, shameful, or even disgusting.
Blogging the company’s rationale
I do admire the way Royal Caribbean has communicated throughout this crisis. The company’s blog, written primarily by the CEO, has been almost entirely devoted to Haiti for the last two weeks. One post details the internal processes the company is using to monitor and manage the situation in Haiti – they’ve even posted a link to a .pdf of their daily meeting notes. Another post addresses the Guardian article and defends their decision to continue operations in Haiti. They’ve posted several photos of relief supplies and discuss a meeting with President Clinton. Both the CEO, Adam Goldstein, and Associate Vice President, John Weis, are posting a few times a day.
Sometimes CEO blogs get a bad rap, and it’s often deserved. They can be dry and uninformative. But having a CEO or company blog in place gives you an instant response platform when a crisis arises. Royal Caribbean had to make a tough call, and through its blog has been able to not only explain and defend its decision in detail but also receive instant feedback by way of comments. Many of the comments support the company’s choice.
I’m sure the RCCL team agonized over what the proper course of action was. I’m still not entirely sure what I would have chosen to do had I been the one making the choice. But I can appreciate that Royal Caribbean was honest, forthright and transparent about its reasons and processes with its customers. I read the posts and can relate to Adam and John as real people who had to make a difficult decision and ultimately are trying to do right by the people of Haiti, their employees, their customers and the public at large.
Did they get the communications piece right?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Instead of debating whether or not RCCL made the right choice to continue docking in Labadee (those discussions are happening all over the Web at the links I included above), I’m more interested in hearing your reactions to how they’ve communicated their choices and actions during this crisis. What could they or should they have done differently? What risks do they still face in terms of reputation management and how do you think they should address them?
How you can help
My earlier post on how to donate and support Haiti relief efforts
Image via Royal Caribbean’s Why Not blog