Cruise ship accidents show weakness of sector: Italian expert

Intervista di Marzia De Giuli a Stefano Landi, pubblicata sull’agenzia di stampa governativa cinese Xinhua (Nuova Cina)
MILAN, Italy, Feb. 29 (Xinhua) — The accidents recently occurred to two cruise liners highlight some weak points in the sector, an Italian cruise tourism expert told Xinhua in an interview on Wednesday.
Referring to the Costa Concordia wreck that killed at least 25 people on Jan. 13, and to the Costa Allegra being towed off Seychelles after a fire cut power earlier this week, Stefano Landi, president of SL&A market research company, said such accidents should stimulate thought among cruise operators.

“It is clear that the Costa Concordia tragedy was not simply the result of a fatality or a human error. Although it is difficult to determine the technical causes of such accidents, a symptomatic fact is for all the world to see: for years, the cruise industry has grown without limits or rules,” Landi said.
“Increasingly bloated ships, monstrous ports built with public money to accommodate them, workers recruited in the poorest countries at very low wages have become typical of the cruise industry business model,” he pointed out.

In fact, in less than 30 years, the vacation cruise industry has undergone a deep transformation from luxury to mass product, with 5.5 million customers in Europe in 2010, the expert noted.
Landi, who is also a tourism professor at Luiss University in Rome, stressed that huge-size cruise ships are extremely convenient for operators, but certainly very problematic to handle with.
“These floating cities are completely self-sufficient, thus fulfill the main objective of always keeping passengers onboard, which makes the real business for operators. But they are extremely difficult to move or evacuate,” he said.

He added the attempt to cut costs often makes operators overlook that ships have a life cycle, and when they are forced to work further it may happen that certain parts go to failure.
“As regards the Costa Allegra, it seems that all checks were about to expire in the next months, while the maintenance cycle should be an obligation to punctually respect,” Landi stressed.
Another weak point of the sector is the crew. “Most of them are workers from developing countries, who, besides having difficulties in communication, are not certainly well paid,” he noted.
“If everything goes smoothly, nobody worries about. But when problems come to light, everyone easily realizes the importance of security standards,” he stressed, adding the happening of two accidents in similar ships within the space of 50 days “is not certainly a good signal.”

In the expert’s view, Costa Cruises, the historical company owner of the two vessels, which belongs to the U.S. Carnival group, has all the possibilities to overcome this crisis, maybe after a rebranding operation.
But following the accidents, it is likely that the sector will experience a contraction. “Tour operators have registered a decrease in demand since the Costa Concordia wreck occurred last January, and the second accident could have a stronger negative impact,” Landi said.

However, the cruise industry was already going through a difficult period before the accidents occurred, he pointed out.
Since 2010, he said, the sector’s turnover in Europe — Italy is the first destination for total number of passengers passing through its ports — has remained stable, despite the number of cruise tourists was still growing.

“This means a decrease in prices, which shows a kind of sector-weariness. The cruise industry should begin to seriously think over itself very carefully,” Landi said.

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