Cruise Line Perceptions Continue to Sink

Quality, Trust & Purchase Intent for several top cruise lines continue downward trend first reported in wake of Carnival Triumph incident

Jun 06, 2013, 13:00 ET from Harris Interactive

NEW YORK, June 6, 2013 /PRNewswire/ -- The cruise industry took some tough perceptual hits earlier this year, with several high publicity incidents – most notably the Carnival Triumph's heavily covered limp to shore – leading to widespread questions of quality standards and shipboard safety. A March Harris Poll found that Quality, Trust and Purchase Intent scores recorded in the week immediately following the Triumph's return to shore ("Post") showed notable drops when compared to scores recorded prior to the incident ("Pre") – not just for Carnival, but across many top cruise brands. (Full findings and data tables available here)

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Many suggested at the time that these drops were likely a temporary setback, and that perceptions would soon bounce back. However, a recent Harris Poll of 2,052 U.S. adults surveyed online between May 14 and 16, 2013 (prior to the recent fire aboard Royal Caribbean's Grandeur of the Seas) by Harris Interactive, finds that perceptions for the top cruise industry brands have not only remained below their pre incident levels, but have continued to decline.

Results are compared, where applicable, to Harris Poll EquiTrend® data collected from January 11, 2013 to February 8, 2013 (the Carnival Triumph incident lasted from February 10-14, 2013) and a Harris Poll of 2,230 U.S. adults surveyed online between February 19 and 21, 2013.

Worsening Waters 
Looking at specific perceptual measures, the average perceived Quality score across the seven brands tested is down by 13% vs. its pre incident level and 6% compared to the post incident wave of testing. While Carnival's Quality score shows the steepest declines (down 28% vs. pre and 12% vs. post), all of the other brands tested ranged individually from 8%-11% below pre levels.

The average Trust score across the seven brands tested is also down in comparison to both pre (down 12%) and post (down 5%) incident; as with Quality, Trust shows the steepest decline for Carnival Cruise Lines (down 26% vs. pre, 11% vs. post). However, the six other brands tested remain between 8%-12% below pre incident Trust levels.

Purchase Intent has declined, on average, 11% from its pre incident level (and 5% from its post incident level).  While this again affects most of the brands tested (with most down between 7%-15% vs. pre levels), it is worth noting that Holland America's Purchase Intent score has largely weathered this perceptual storm, holding at just 2% below its pre level. Carnival is again hardest hit, down 20% vs. pre, 8% vs. post.

Air Travel Gains Altitude over Cruises 
Revisiting statements comparing the cruise industry to air travel – a comparison first made in the aforementioned February Harris Poll – Americans' inclination to favor air travel over cruises has only increased. Over six in ten Americans (62%) agree that air travel is much more reliable than taking cruises (up from 57% in February), and the majority (56%) agree that air travel is much safer than taking cruises (up from 50% in February).

Roughly half of Americans (51%, roughly even with February's 53%) agree that they're less likely to take a cruise now than they were a year ago, with this sentiment once again proving stronger among those who have never taken a cruise (56%) than among those who have (43%).

One-third of Americans (32%) agree that cruises are "worry-free," down slightly from 35% in February, with past cruise experience again appearing to have a considerable impact on this perception: those who have taken a cruise (51%) are again more than twice as likely to agree that cruises are "worry free" as those who have not (22%).

"When we first addressed this topic in March, even we were open to the idea that a 'recency bias' of sorts might be impacting the results so soon after the Triumph fiasco, creating a low tide for the industry as a whole," concedes Harris Poll Insights Vice President Deana Percassi. "But these more recent findings, coupled with reports of heavily discounted pricing on Carnival cruises, indicate that the industry as a whole, as well as the Carnival brand specifically, may still be facing rough seas." 

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between May 14 and 16, 2013 among 2,052 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of the Harris Poll studies referenced herein may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

The Harris Poll® #33, June 6, 2013 
By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Harris Interactive  
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SOURCE Harris Interactive