Carnival Cruise Lines is betting that passengers will enjoy a Fun Ship vacation — and the Miami-based company is making a new guarantee to back up that conviction.
The company on Thursday announced a new money-back, we’ll-get-you-home promise to passengers who may be wary of cruise travel after a stretch of bad publicity. The “Great Vacation Guarantee” pledges a 110 percent refund as well as free transportation home if guests decide they’re unhappy and want to leave within the first 24 hours of a cruise. They will be allowed to leave at the next port of call. Passengers will also get $100 worth of onboard credit for a future cruise if they want to try again.
Gerry Cahill, president and CEO of the Miami-based cruise operator, said the offer was prompted by a desire to attract first-time and new-to-Carnival cruisers who might be uncertain about the brand following negative coverage of the disabling Carnival Triumph fire and technical problems on other ships.
“Among people — not so much people who have cruised with us, but more among people who have never tried the Carnival brand — they got a bad perception of the brand,” he said.
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Polls showed that the public’s perception of cruise vacations sunk following the Triumph incident, with Carnival taking the worst hit. Cahill said the number of first-time cruisers — a key market for cruise companies — dropped in the aftermath.
“Because they’d never been on a cruise ship, they don’t know how seriously we take safety, they don’t know how seriously we take providing a great guest experience,” Cahill said.
With the new program, Cahill said Carnival has stepped up a previous, weaker guarantee introduced in 1996 that offered passengers money back for the portion of a cruise they didn’t take and reimbursed travel back to the port of embarkation. Just a fraction of a percent of all passengers took the company up on that offer, a spokeswoman said. Now, the company will make arrangements to get a passenger back home, including air transportation and ground transfers and a hotel room, if necessary.
“We tried to make this as seamless as possible and hassle-free as possible for the guest,” Cahill said.
The guarantee is good for three- to eight-day trips to the Bahamas, Caribbean, Mexican Riviera, Alaska, Canada, and New England departing through April 30, 2015. It only applies to U.S. and Canadian residents, who must have passports with them. Cahill said that if Carnival would face a fine for violating the Passenger Vessel Services Act by transporting a passenger between two U.S. ports without a stop at a foreign port, the company would accept the $300-per-person fine.
Carnival plans to promote the offer in print advertisements, online, through travel agents, and on its website.
Miami cruise expert Stewart Chiron, CEO of CruiseGuy.com, said the offer is unique to Carnival, part of the world’s largest cruise-ship company.
He said Carnival’s message is: “Hey, give us a shot, you’ve got nothing to lose and we’re putting our money where our mouth is.”
The guarantee, Chiron said, addresses the uncertainty that many non-cruisers might have about whether they will enjoy their experience.
“They’re really taking the burden off the passenger,” he said. “There’s no excuses now, which is a good thing.”