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Cruise-ship sinking offers lessons on covering corporate disasters

This night-vision footage of the evacuation of the cruise ship Costa Concordia off the Italian coast on Friday was posted by The Telegraph in the United Kingdom.

After 2011 turned out to be the second-costliest ever year in terms of disasters, from tsunamis to floods to quakes to volcanic eruptions — the corporate world and insurers must’ve been hoping for a break in 2012.  This article from The Atlantic even dubbed it “2011: The year of the disaster” and is a good recap of the year in case you need facts and figures for context.

Yet the Friday-the-13th sinking of the Costa Concordia off the coast of Italy — with six passengers known dead as I write and a couple dozen more still missing out of some 4,000 souls aboard — is an inauspicious start to 2012.  And with the compelling and surreal photos of the wreck still dominating headlines and news sites, it’s not too far-fetched for business beat reporters to seek some ties to the story that has global audiences riveted.

Reporters in cities home to major ports of call can check in with tour operators, support sectors such as hotels, car services, caterers and even airports/airlines about what they’re hearing from prospective passengers in light of early reports that suggest safety measures were lacking on the Costa Concordia.  As this Reuters story points out, travelers are nervous.

From a consumer /personal finance standpoint, a review of standard cancellation policies/customer recourse/travel insurance provisions would be a timely clip-and-save feature for readers.  In a similar vein, you might cast an eye toward major tourist venues in your region and ask experts to weigh in on preventative measures patrons can take.  What are the top safety issues at amusement parks, music venues (remember last summer’s Indiana State Fair stage collapse?), tall buildings, indoor shopping malls, conference centers, health systems and other large campuses?  The disasters need not be cataclysmic; even water main breaks, unexpected snow squalls and electrical malfunctions can require a disaster plan to be implemented.

Even if you don’t have a port, cruise line, shipyard or other maritime industry in your backyard, you still can look for disaster potential and preparedness among the major employers and industries that do affect your region.

Also think about workplace safety.  What large employment centers are in your region and what are the plans if something goes awry, from bad weather to a mechanical failure to a human meltdown?  Companies employ specialists to plan for disaster preparedness; seek out such experts in your region and talk to them about the contingencies they work around and the preparations they make.

Whom do they employ to help?   As I always say, “Who benefits?” — check in with loss-mitigation firms that specialize in cleaning up water or fire damage, consulting firms that help with disaster plans or compliance training and similar consultants or tradespeople.  On that note, and incorporating the insurance angle, here’s a blog post I wrote in December about natural disasters and related story ideas.

Meanwhile if you prefer to pursue the cruise angle, one way to tie it to financial journalism is to take a look at what — if any — corporate-incentive trips are originating in your area.  That is, reward travel for successful sales representatives and other employees, or cruises that incorporate professional conferences, conventions and other business get-togethers.  As this recent USA Today article notes, corporate-incentive travel is on the upswing — and you can gain more insight at the online version of Corporate and Incentive Travel magazine.  And here’s a survey about employee-incentive travel trends from consulting firm The Incentive Research Foundation.

And in a similar vein, check with hobby clubs and other groups about affinity cruises.  Lots of special-interest organizations book sea travel as a way of having combo vacations/gatherings — even commercial enterprises such as Turner Classic Movies and the QVC home-shopping channel have been known to invite devotees to weigh anchor.  Ferret out the firms in your region that help plan and promote such tours for a unique angle that — while perhaps not apropos on the heels of a fatal sea accident — will be fodder in your pocket for future tourism and marketing stories.

In Basics, Beats, Featured, Personal finance, Story ideas, Transportation | Airlines | Travel.

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