Carnival CEO discusses cruise lines, pandemic and politics

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Carnival Corp., once a $ 21 billion company, saw revenue drop to zero overnight last year when the pandemic shut down the cruise industry.

It’s CEO Arnold Donald’s job to navigate uncharted waters for the cruise giant, which operates nine brands around the world. The company hopes the entire fleet of nearly 90 ships will depart by next spring, but regulations to limit the spread of COVID-19 on board have slowed so far.

Donald relies on experienced cruisers to set sail again. He recognizes, however, that the industry faces the challenge of attracting new followers.

Donald has been CEO since 2013, when he replaced founder Micky Arison, who remains chairman. The change came after a fatal accident involving a ship off the coast of Italy and an ill-fated voyage that was called the crappy cruise when the toilets didn’t flush as the helpless ship floated in the Caribbean for decades. days.

Under the New Orleans native, Carnival thrived for several years, posting a profit of $ 3 billion in 2019. Then came the pandemic, and the company lost $ 10 billion.

Donald recently spoke to The Associated Press about his business, the cruise industry and the intersection of business and politics. Answers have been edited for length.

Can you start by describing what the pandemic did to carnival?

It has certainly been devastating for the travel and tourism industry in general and perhaps even more so for the cruise industry in particular. Even though we had no income, we had to continue to equip the ships with minimal manpower, so we had a high burn rate without any income.

How will your business and the cruise industry recover?

It is very simple. The demand for travel experience among the world’s population has not disappeared – that demand is still there. In a very short time, the world has kind of educated itself and developed solutions to deal with (COVID-19). It’s not perfect. It’s not foolproof, but it helps us get back to the things we love better. We sailed successfully during the pandemic, even before vaccines in Europe.

What impact has the delta variant of COVID-19 had on bookings and cancellations?

I can’t speak between quarters, but generally speaking I would tell you that if we look to the future, we don’t see any major obstacles to cruising in the future.

Passengers arriving early for the departure of the first Carnival Pride cruise to leave the South Locust Point cruise terminal in the Port of Baltimore since the onset of the pandemic are holding fans while waiting to embark on a seven-day cruise to the Bahamas.

Are you worried that last year’s media coverage of virus outbreaks on cruise ships will scare passengers away for a long time?

For people who haven’t sailed and don’t understand it and don’t know what it is, of course these images make the climb more difficult for us. For those who have sailed – and there are many – we have no problem because they know that when you go on a cruise there is a medical center on board and there is a doctor, nurses and disinfection stations. hands. We have already implemented many protocols, and now we have improved them for the specificity of the challenge that is COVID-19. Cruise lines understand this. They know that ships are not planes where people are sitting next to each other all the time.

Unlike the airlines, which got a $ 54 billion pandemic bailout, Carnival and other cruise lines have received no federal aid. Is it because you are incorporated in Panama?

We’re not technically an American company, so of course that could influence a decision like that. I don’t know why the government did what it did, but it is rational thought. It would have been nice to have some help. We have a lot of American employees.

Analysts (in a FactSet survey) expect Carnival’s revenue in 2023 to exceed 2019. That sounds optimistic to me. Can you do this?

We will probably have a little more capacity … There will probably be a potential environment for higher pricing. This combination will lead to more income. So it is certainly a possibility. We are not giving a forecast yet.

Fans line up at Jetty Park to see Carnival Cruise Line's Mardi Gras ship arrive in Port Canaveral, Fla. On June 4, 2021.
Fans line up at Jetty Park to see Carnival Cruise Line’s Mardi Gras ship arrive in Port Canaveral, Fla. On June 4, 2021. [ JOE BURBANK | Orlando Sentinel ]

As CEO, you replaced founder Micky Arison. You arrived shortly after the Costa Concordia capsized off the coast of Italy and the Carnival Triumph drifted through the Caribbean with no power or toilets after a fire cut off the power. How was it ?

Micky had not been kicked out as CEO, which some people were trying to say in the media. He was instrumental in deciding to divide the role of chairman and the role of CEO, knowing that we had to focus our attention on some of those areas with advertising and all that, and other areas of the business that needed extra attention. It was all constructive, it was collaborative.

You are one of the few black CEOs of Fortune 500 companies. When some in the business community rallied against a Georgian law that they said would hurt minority voters, you did not seem to play a visible role. Is this a fair characterization?

I try to stay away from politics when you go to parties and that sort of thing because we have Democratic guests and we have Republican guests and they both have their views. But I believe in standing up for things that are fundamentally right, and in this particular case, I signed this petition (a petition protesting Georgia’s electoral law) with other business leaders. One of the most basic rights in a democracy is the right to vote. We need to do things to encourage people to vote.

You are 66 years old, you will be 67 in a few months. How long are you going to stay in your job?

As long as the board and shareholders want me to continue to do this – certainly as we navigate the rest of this pandemic and put this company back on the direct course of financial success with great returns on investment for shareholders .

By DAVID KOENIG Business Writer AP



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