When the Costa Concordia sank off the coast of Giglio, Italy one year ago, it claimed 32 lives and shined a spotlight on what appeared to be a completely inept captain who left the ship as it sank. Many wondered if the cruise industry would ever recover from the tragedy.
Experts agreed at the time that it would. And by and large, it has. The price-slashing that took place among cruise lines in the months immediately following the Costa incident is long over. This month, as the industry enters its annual "wave season," there are deals to be had, but nothing remotely resembling the all-but-giving-it-away prices of early 2012.
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A year ago the industry was "bullish," said Carolyn Spencer Brown, Editor-in-Chief of CruiseCritic.com. "There was a sunshine-y vibe. Lines were going to get fares up," she said, and as a result, they were heavily marketing to first-time cruisers -- a strategy they immediately abandoned after the Concordia sank. Even that has come full circle.
Brown, who is a veteran cruiser, was on a cruise ship when she got the news. She said the incident shook her "to the core." Still, she went on to take 14 more cruises in 2012. And while avid cruisers understood this tragedy was an anomaly and that in general, cruising was very safe, it was more than enough -- at least temporarily -- to scare off the first-timers.
Just six months later, the industry was back to marketing to cruise virgins.
Even Carnival Corp., the parent company of Costa, is well on its way to recovery. While current prices on Costa ships are "cheaper than the rest," said Brown, Carnival's stock is trading higher than it was in the days before the Concordia incident.
"As a result of the Costa Concordia tragedy in January, the past year has been the most challenging in our company's history. However, through the significant efforts of our brand management teams, we were able to maintain full year 2012 net revenue yields (excluding Costa) in line with the prior year," said Micky Arison, Carnival's chairman and CEO, in the fourth-quarter earnings report.
The company also announced it had reached an agreement for the construction of two new cruise ships. One is a 2,660-passenger ship for its Holland America Line, to be delivered in 2015; the other is a 4,000-passenger vessel for its Carnival Cruise Lines brand, to be delivered in 2016. Both are the largest ships ever built for those brands.
Changes have been made. The Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) initiated a Cruise Industry Operational Safety Review in the weeks following the tragedy to address muster drills, bridge access and procedures, life jacket availability and location, lifeboat loading drills, recording of passenger nationalities for on-shore emergency services personnel, and securing of heavy objects.