"Most people understand just how common a thing this is."
These are the words
of Royal Caribbean CEO Richard Fain regarding the gastrointestinal illness that befell more than 600 passengers on his company’s Explorer of the Seas cruise line recently. “Common”—not as in the common cold, but as in vomiting, diarrhea, and other symptoms of the norovirus.
I’ve never taken an open-seas cruise in my life, so I do not know from experience just how “common” these kinds of outbreaks are. But Fain may have a point: According to CruiseCritic.com, more than 20 million cases of norovirus are reported annually, and not just on big boats. It also spreads in nursing homes, restaurants, and dormitories.
Which raises the question: If the illness is so common, then why not build its inevitability into the cruise ship’s customer engagement strategy? Royal Caribbean operates a rewards program, called Crown & Anchor, which provides special perks including a dedicated “Loyalty Ambassador,” access to members-only events, and certificates to use at cruise ship spas, casinos, and bars.
With acknowledgment of common illnesses, Royal Caribbean can add special benefits for those members who might become infected while on board, such as quadruple-ply toilet paper and snuggly bathrobes to offset the chills. If the sickened loyalty member returns for a second cruise within the year, triple points!
I am being flippant, but that is the point. Dismissing as “common” an event that tainted more than 600 vacations is tone deaf. Planning a vacation takes more than money. Work schedules are changed and responsibilities reassigned; special care may have been arranged for children or pets. Money and vacation days have already been spent even when a compensation cruise is offered.
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If Royal Caribbean operates a loyalty program, perhaps it should survey its members to provide feedback on how “common” vacationers believe onboard illnesses really are. At the very least, its customer data should help Fain understand what most people expect and value when they climb on board.
Lisa Biank Fasig is the public relations director and lead content provider at Forza Marketing. A version of this story originally appeared on the agency's blog.