Italy Cruise Disaster: A Disaster for the Entire Cruise Industry

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Federico Scoppa / Eidon / ZUMAPRESS

The cruise ship Costa Concordia off the coast of Giglio Island, Italy, on Monday.

After seeing images of the Costa Concordia, which ran aground near an Italian island last week, killing at least five people, it’s understandable that a sizeable portion of the public is deciding that maybe cruising isn’t for them after all.

The Concordia tragedy, it appears, will affect more than the ship’s passengers and staffers and their loved ones. The entire cruise industry will be hurt as many would-be cruisers decide against taking to the sea. In terms of timing, it couldn’t be worse for business: January to March is known as “Wave Season” because it’s usually the busiest time of year for passengers to book cruises. This year, the waves may be mild.

Mike Driscoll, the editor of the industry publication Cruise Week, told USA Today:

“From what travel agents are telling me, that horrifying image (of the massive ship on its side) is going to turn the cruise industry on its side, too,” Driscoll said.

In a recent poll on SodaHead asking “Are You Less Likely to Take a Cruise Given the Costa Concordia Tragedy?” one-quarter of respondents said yes, while about half replied no, and the rest answered, “I was unlikely to take a cruise in the first place!”

(MORE: The Sinking of the Costa Concordia and Italy’s Rules of Safety)

Of those saying that the disaster would make them less likely to take a cruise, a disproportionate number were over the age of 65: More than one-third (34%) of folks in this age bracket said they’re less likely to cruise now. Despite all those cruise line ads featuring young couples dancing and scaling rock-climbing walls, cruise demographics still skew older. So it appears as if this core age group is the one most scared off by the Concordia horror.

Another group that’s likely to skip cruising, or rather, keep avoiding cruise ships is the four out of five Americans who have never been on a cruise. Mark Murphy, a travel industry analyst, told Reuters:

“The problem is this could impact the other 80 percent who are yet to try cruises,” said Murphy.

For these people, their first and most memorable images of cruising may be the half-sunk Concordia, or panicked passengers relating the story of swimming for their lives. Most travel agents and industry observers expect sales to be weak in the short term—which will translate into super cheap cruise deals, especially for last-minute departures—and eventually rebound over time once the public perceives them as safe again.

(PHOTOS: Cruise Ship Runs Aground Off Italy)

The biggest immediate financial hit will be suffered (rightly so) by Carnival Corp., the parent company of Costa Cruises. Travel Weekly reports that Carnival must cough up $40 million in insurance deductibles, and that Costa revenue losses because the Concordia is out of commission will come close to $100 million in 2012.

Brad Tuttle is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @bradrtuttle. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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