Not The Vacation I Planned, But Still Educational

Roatan close door

Little did I know when we escaped Chicago before the polar vortex hit last week that our cruise of the Western Caribbean would turn into a mini-case study of good communication and crisis management.

No, the engine on the Seven Seas Navigator still works as do our toilets. What isn’t working is the weather.  I’m not writing this post to garner sympathy. Despite rain, high winds and swells up to 15 feet, temperatures here are a good 70 degrees higher than in the North.

However, rather than snorkeling in the one of the great reefs of the world today, I’m writing about what I’ve been observing from the way the ship’s 350 crew functions under adverse conditions. The consensus of 490 passengers is that the crew makes the bad situation more than just tolerable. How is this possible? Like all great organizations, it starts at the top.

Clearly, the cruise industry has plenty of experience in such situations and worse. In our case, Captain Stan De Lacombe has set a course for effective crisis management. Via the ship-wide public address system, the charismatic French captain in his broken English provides one or two detailed updates a day. He immediately is followed by always cheerful cruise director Lorraine Weimerskirch, who announces tour changes and cancelations and a make-shift array of alternative activities. While acknowledging the unseasonable weather conditions, she remains upbeat as she tells us that snorkeling at the world-renown barrier reef, cave tubing and a tour of the Lamanai Mayan ruins have been canceled. Added programs include Bingo, Mahjong and social bridge. We opted for an umbrella and a self-guided walk around Belize City.

The bad weather causes more work for the entire crew, which nonetheless adjusts smoothly to the recurring changes. They are kept informed by supervisors and, in turn, convey consistent, reassuring messages to passengers. We also receive updates via the ship’s television network and Passages, the ship’s daily newsletter. So far, these consistent messages keep passenger concerns to a minimum, but we’re just over halfway through the voyage.

This experience underscores the importance of the public relations management principles espoused by the Arthur W. Page Society:

  • Tell the truth.
  • Prove it with action.
  • Listen to the customer.
  • Manage for tomorrow.
  • Conduct public relations as if the whole company depends on it.
  • Realize a company’s true character is expressed by its people.
  • Remain calm, patient and good humored.

I am impressed with seeing the Page Principles  in action during this less-than-perfect voyage. But I’ll be a lot happier if the weather improves. Until then, I’m off to Bingo.

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