Jo Kling, CEO of Seasite.com and president of Landry & Kling, has been working with companies on cruise meetings for three decades. While she emphasizes the stellar safety record of cruise ships, she understands that clients have questions following the January 13 grounding of the Costa Concordia. Here is her perspective on keeping your group safe on ships.

 
 

What should planners keep in mind when it comes to cruise ships and the safety of their groups?
Jo Kling: “Understand the serious nature of the safety (“muster”) drill—and participate in it! At Landry & Kling, when we start planning our client’s agenda, we alert them to the drill—which they sometimes find inconvenient. We also prepare a written program guide for planners to hand out to their attendees, which includes a reference to the Muster Drill on the first day, so they are aware of the drill and can plan to attend it.
“Planners should tell their people to read the instructions on their cabin doors about the location of their muster stations, and to watch the safety video that most lines broadcast during embarkation.
“When our staff accompanies a group, they never miss the drill—no matter how often they've attended or if they’re working on other preparations the group requires. It's important to participate every time and ensure that our clients go also.”

Are there other safety precautions planners should take?
Kling: “Planners who normally set up group transfers or excursions on land-based programs know to check the liability insurance for the vehicle operators, and the same applies with shore excursions during a cruise.”

What do you see as the implications of the Costa Concordia tragedy for meeting professionals?
Kling: “Planners should pay special attention to the operational efficiency of the cruise lines they're considering. For example, during ship site inspections, inquire what systems and procedures are in place for everyday care and maintenance of the ship. Look to see whether there are officers visible throughout the ship overseeing that those procedures are followed—that things occur when scheduled, that everything runs like clockwork. In that type of environment, the cruise line runs ‘a tight ship’ when it comes to the training of staff responsible for implementation of muster drills.
“Cruise lines that earn high ratings for their guest relations or purser's desk likely have strong communications and training in place. Typically when you find good communications flowing between the various departments—from the cruise director, shore excursion department, dining rooms, room stewards—it's a sign that someone's really in charge. In this environment, nothing gets missed—especially in the safety department—because that's the first and foremost criteria for professional cruise industry personnel.”

Any resources planners could consult if they want to dive deeper?
Kling: “See the CLIA statement on safety and security, including how the Coast Guard works closely with cruise ships, evaluating fire- and abandon-ship drills on a routine basis and conducting tests on key equipment. Besides the drill for passengers, we regularly hear announcements about additional drills for the crew, particularly the fire-safety teams and emergency passenger response.
“Following the recent tragedy, several cruise lines have made safety-related announcements. Carnival Corp. [parent of Costa Cruises] announced it will audit the safety and emergency response procedures across its entire fleet of cruise lines. Royal Caribbean [and Prestige Cruise Holdings, parent of Regent Seven Seas and Oceania] also announced they will uniformly hold all muster drills on the day of departure, even if sailing time is late in the day.”

Are there differences in how cruise lines manage safety procedures?
Kling: “In my own observations over several decades, there doesn’t seem to be a uniform standard even in the departures from U.S ports. Some lines go further than the Coast Guard requires. The muster drills for some cruise lines seem more disciplined than others; some have roll call to verify all passengers have attended, while others do not. This appears to be more a reflection of various companies’ overall approach. For example, some lines muster passengers on deck where they can see the lifeboats. Others believe it’s safer to muster in lounges near the exits to lifeboat decks, so that if there are any obstructions or reasons not to use certain parts of the deck, that’s known in advance, thus allowing passengers to be directed correctly.”