Tempest in a Hashtag: Before I Sail on Princess a Note on #followmeatsea
When I started my adventure in learning to be a travel agent I took dozens of trainings from suppliers of travel. One of the first was Princess cruise lines very exhaustive online course. I have to say that it was the most thorough and difficult to pass of all that I have taken thus far. One of the benefits of completing this course and becoming a “Commodore” is a complimentary “Graduation Cruise.” Princess offers space on select cruises at no charge for an inside cabin, and at very reduced rates for some better categories to travel agents who have graduated as Commodores. The agent has 2 years to use this cruise or lose it. The cruises are offered fairly close to sailing, so many great options came and went due to scheduling conflicts. I could have had Reykjavik!
With only four months of eligibility for my free cruise left, I had about given up finding one that worked for our schedule. Then came the email offering 10 days Panama Canal on December 10th. This worked for me and my better half as we both wanted to experience the canal crossing by ship, and the date aligned with winter break. We have been helping with our granddaughter while mom and dad are both trudging through graduate school. After getting the thumbs up from the wife, I booked the cruise on a Friday and began booking air and hotels. On that Sunday evening a tweet from a friend introduced me to #followmeatsea.
Princess had offered a group of travel bloggers and writers an opportunity to experience a Caribbean cruise in hopes that they would blog, tweet, and write about their experience. What started as a PR experiment quickly devolved into a twitter hashtag battle. Some environmentally minded people in the travel world on twitter began to attack their compatriots who went on the cruise on two fronts: the ethics of taking freebies and the environmental failings of cruises. For those unfamiliar with the whole hullabaloo, some of it got pretty nasty.
As I had just booked my own cruise I took an immediate interest in the goings on. I ended up reading all the tweets in #followmeatsea daily. I also followed most of the links that were put out by those tweeting into the hashtag. Several blogs talked about the PR aspects of the affair, mostly emphasizing the lack of a response on the part of the cruise’s sponsor. As an avid student of Twitter, and best practices thereof, my first reaction was one of agreement. It was baffling why Princess failed to address the critics head on. There was very little offered by those critics that was specific to Princess. Most of the links the offered were fact light and opinion heavy. I did learn that some people think cruise ships are a plague upon the earth, but I still am not sure why some of them hold this opinion due to so few facts being included.
Eventually most of the critics slunk away from the hashtag. The people who went on the cruise quickly lashed back at their critics. Many of the fans of the well known tweeters and bloggers also came to their defense. By the after cruise postings I had changed my mind about what Princess did and didn’t do in regards to the critics. When you have allies and friends defending you from criticism there really is no need to defend yourself. Without lifting a finger Princess, and the cruise industry in general, came out of the whole mess the winner!
Anybody who looked at the totality of #followmeatsea would come away with two main impressions. There is a small group of people who hate cruises and think bloggers shouldn’t take freebies, Secondly the people who went on that cruise sure had one hell of a good time! It was the latter impression that was by far the most powerful. Despite the impassioned intent to sink “The Love Boat” the critics failed to even put a dent into the overall positive PR the trip generated. It was clear from the tweets and blogs of the invitees that most had never been on a cruise. Many had low expectations of how they would like the experience. For most the trip far exceeded their expectations. Thus, what seemed early on to be PR stuck on a reef turned out to be PR clear sailing!
Like the bloggers of this journey, I had low expectations before my first cruise many years ago. It came as a compromise for a multi-generation family adventure. The whole experience was much more fun than I could have imagined. It was not my last cruise by a long shot. Even though I prefer land based trips to cruises, I continue to add an occasional cruise to my plans. They are particularly great ways for families or groups of friends with varied interests or degrees of hardiness to travel comfortably en masse. My looming sailing will be the first I have taken as a couple without an entourage of family or friends. I am really looking forward to it. We have sailed with Princess several times and I can’t wait to get a bit of pampering.
People who have been on their first cruise report a very high level of satisfaction with the experience on surveys. The vast majority state that they would be likely or very likely to cruise again in the future. A very small percentage of Americans have taken that first cruise, so the market is sure to continue to grow. It is secure in this knowledge that the industry steams ahead doing better than the overall travel business in the worst travel market of all time. Some new ship orders that had been put on hold have been put right back into the queue. The public demand for cruise vacations just keeps expanding and new ships will be needed to fill that demand. Once they get you on your first cruise, they know almost all of you will sail again.
This is bad news for those who think of the industry as the scourge of the earth. If the goal is to get the public to stop taking cruises, what we have here is a massive FAIL! As I have written before I see travel as problematic in environmental terms. I have very green intentions, and live my life with as little impact on the earth as I can within reason. I am a practical person first and foremost. Most people will make greener choices only when it fits into their lifestyle. It is my opinion that working for green alternatives to fossil fuels for airplanes, cars and ships makes more sense than urging people not to travel a certain way, or not to travel at all. If there were green alternatives I, and many others, would opt for them. I will not opt to stay home.