Cruise Lines Continue to Battle Unfavorable Tides According to the Latest Harris Poll

A new Harris Poll was published today indicates there has been a recent setback for the seven major cruise lines with regard to their perceived customer quality, trust & purchase intent in the aftermath of the February 2014 norovirus reports aboard a few ships. Results from a Harris Poll EquiTrend poll in January had indicated an overall increase in each indices or the seven-cruise line industry average when compared to data collected in May 2013. The handful of recent norovirus reports appear to have been enough to reverse the cruise industries’ forward momentum and have even had an affect on lines such as Disney Cruise Line which did not have any reported norovirus cases during the period. The Harris Poll surveyed 2,059 adults familiar with each cruise line, and compared the results to a similar survey taken at the beginning of the year. The complete report is available online.

Harris Poll 33 Cruise Brand Perception April 2014

Looking just at the first couple months of this year, we see a 5% decrease in perceived quality and trust resulting in decrease in  respondents’ intent to purchase of 6%, which according the the authors of the Harris Poll, is attributed to the norovirus incidents.

Overall, Disney Cruise Line fared better than the seven cruise line average in each category. The results placed Disney tied with Norwegian with the lowest drop in the quality category and the third lowest drop in trust category. The respondents intent to purchase wavered a tenth of point.  Disney Cruise Line edged out the competition in the quality and trust categories, but lost the edge in intent to purchase to Royal Caribbean International. Similarly to last years Harris Poll, I am puzzled. The perceived quality and trust of Disney Cruise has decreased, but the intent to purchase does not reflect this mindset. I guess this means one of three things. Either those who sail with Disney Cruise Line do not care and will continue to sail with the mouse, or those who do not sail with Disney Cruise Line have no plans to do so in the future. There may be one other explanation which I think is close to the truth…. If you look at the summary tables of the report, the base used for the response is US adults familiar with each brand, but does not provide a breakdown between respondents who have ever taken a cruise. Disney Cruise Line (as well as other lines) could simply be impacted in the quality and trust category not based on individual merit, but as a result of the overall cruise industry perception based on a few isolated incidents.

“We’ve all heard the saying that a rising tide lifts all boats,” says Deana Percassi, Vice President and Public Relations Research Consultant with Nielsen, “but the inverse also holds true. In a field as crowded as the cruise industry, bad press for a small handful of brands – or even a single one – can have negative repercussions for major players across the board.” – Harris Poll #33 April 9, 2014

According to the report, 54% of Americans are less likely to take a cruise now compared to last year at this time. This statistic is comprised by 58% who stated they have never taken a cruise vacation to 44% who have previously cruise and are now less likely to so in the near future.

Based on results of this survey, I would imagine those who are cruisers will continue to cruise. The real challenge for cruise lines is to attract the never cruised before demographic or in their eyes new money. This brings be back to the issue of the industry being judged as a whole based on isolated incidents versus individual merits. If that percentage is truly representative of the never before cruiser, that leaves a lot of money left on the table for cruise lines. In order to lure a portion of the 58% of first time cruisers who say they are less likely cruise now than a year ago, cruise line marketing departments are going to need to find a way to turn the tide in their favor. Disney does have a advantage over the other lines as they have a vast target audience of vacationers at Walt Disney World along with a built-in eco-system to shuttle guests between Port Canaveral and either Walt Disney World or Orlando International Airport.

The report closes out by comparing air travel to cruising, but that is not really a fare comparison considering air travel to me is simply a mode of transportation between destinations. A cruise ship is a destination while not in a port of call. I think a better comparison would be… Well, the closest thing would be train travel, but still this is a mode of transpiration. The best apples to oranges comparison I can come up with for cruise travel is an all inclusive resort, and only difference is the resort does not move to a new destination. Seriously, when was the last time you said you cannot wait to board an airplane for the specific airplane’s onboard amenities and entertainment? Cruising is about sailing off on an adventure, not a mode of transportation between two ports of call. If you want to visit St John, just fly to St Thomas, take a ferry and stay a week.

On an almost unrelated note for those reading over the Harris Poll report, you may have noticed the mention of Nielsen. Since it is on page five of the report, and I know I barely read past the first paragraph of the methodology & it is worth noting Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll was acquired by Nielsen earlier this year.

For more on norovirus check out’s article Norovirus At Sea – Q&A For Cruisers.

What do you think of the Harris Poll results?  Did the norovirus cases impact your cruise plans?

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