The cruise industry has suffered a series of calamities over the last two years or so that have continued to sink its already plummeting image.
The bad publicity continued Tuesday when Princess Cruises announced that 37 people had fallen ill on a cruise along the California coast.
In fact, Americans have a more favorable attitude about commercial air travel -- despite higher air fares and shrinking economy seats -- than cruising, according to an online survey of more than 2,000 adults by the Harris Poll.
The quality of the cruise industry fell 11% in February from a year earlier, according to scores by survey takers. Their score for trust in the cruise industry dropped 12% and scores indicating plans to book a cruise trip fell 13%, according to the poll.
The cruise industry's image has taken a beating for a while, starting with the Costa Concordia wreck off the coast of Italy in 2012.
The industry suffered another blow when a fire broke out in the Carnival Triumph in February 2013, leaving the ship adrift in the Gulf of Mexico for several days.
In January, gastrointestinal illnesses struck more than 700 passengers on two separate ships, Princess Cruises' Houston-based Caribbean Princess and Royal Caribbean's Explorer of the Seas.
On Tuesday, the Crown Princess, on a seven-day cruise, departing from San Pedro along the California coast, reported a possible outbreak of highly contagious norovirus. The ship is carrying 3,161 passengers and 1,176 crew members.
Public perception has dropped even for cruise lines that avoided disastrous incidents over the last few months.
"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," said Deana Percassi, a public relations consultant for Nielsen, a consumer information firm and parent company of the Harris Poll.
Even Disney Cruise Line, which largely stayed clear of controversy and disaster over the last year, had a 4% drop in trust and a 3% decline in quality since the recent gastrointestinal illness outbreak.
The Cruise Lines International Assn., the trade group for the cruise industry, said incidents such as the norovirus outbreak are very rare and do not affect ticket sales.
"The Harris Poll does not reflect what CLIA is hearing, which is that bookings are solid and cruise ships are leaving full," the group said in a statement.
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