Long-Term Impact From the Costa Concordia Cruise Disaster?

January 8, 2013

Special: The Costa Concordia Disaster, 1 Year Later

(1:20 p.m. EST) -- The Costa Concordia tragedy shined a bright light on cruising and the industry's safety precautions.

Images of Concordia on its side off the coast of the small Italian of Giglio have become iconic, while the disgraced captain Francesco Schettino has been universally vilified for his role in the incident, which led to the death of 32 people.

In the year since the tragedy, the cruise industry has vowed to monitor and improve safety standards.

The most noticeable change, of course, is the overhaul of the safety procedures cruise ships are obliged to have in place. Observers might say many of these new procedures -- for example a muster drill before the ship sets sail and more mandatory lifeboat training for crew -- should have already been in place.

Be that as it may, the industry cast itself in a positive light by acting swiftly, decisively and with one voice. No fewer than 10 new safety procedures were put in place within a year of the accident, and three of them were enshrined in maritime law by the end of 2012.

Apart from safety, the key question is: How has this affected the cruise industry?

Most commentators agree that for seasoned cruisers, the answer is "not a lot."

Indeed, in a poll we conducted just after the accident, 65 percent of the 6,000 Cruise Critic members who responded to the question -- "Will you continue to cruise in light of the Concordia disaster?" -- said they would continue to do so, as the accident was an anomaly. Less than 4 percent responded that cruising is too risky and they won't take to the seas again.

(If Costa had not moved to pin the blame squarely on the captain, or if there had been any evidence -- as was briefly suggested -- that this was anything to do with a design or an engineering flaw, then the impact would have been different).

But there is a big difference between Cruise Critic members and those people who have never set foot on a ship. What we do not have access to are the first-timers who were about to book their first cruise during the January 2012 "wave season" and who held back as a result of the stark headlines.

The only firm proof of the impact has come from trading statements from Costa Crociere parent company, Carnival Corp., which suffered in three successive quarters after the tragedy and in December reported a net profit of $93 million (£57m) in the three months leading up to November 30, 2012, down from $217 million year over year.

Carnival Corp. Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Micky Arison, acknowledged the impact of the disaster: "As a result of the Costa Concordia tragedy in January, the past year has been the most challenging in our company's history."

Looking ahead, the company said its bookings for 2013 "continue to be behind" this year's levels.

Yet despite the tragedy, the number of people choosing to cruise in the U.K. last year saw a surprise rise to 1.72 million -- 20,000 more than 2011.

--by Adam Coulter, U.K. Editor