Carnival CEO predicts when entire fleet will return, discusses COVID-19 vaccine requirements

Carnival Cruise Line's new ship Mardi Gras was set to make its fall debut at Port Canaveral.

Carnival Corp. CEO Arnold Donald didn’t give any exact dates for a return to cruising — either for test voyages or revenue operations — but did say it’s possible some cruising will resume by year’s end.

“What I will predict is this: I think that certainly by the end of this year, most, if not all, of our fleet, I’m optimistic, will be in action,” Donald said during a webcast “Fireside Chat” with John Lovell, president of Travel Leaders Group. “I think there’s a really high probability that all of them will be back by early next year if things continue to progress the way they have.”

He cited advances in COVID-19 treatment, available low-cost and accurate testing, and multiple vaccines.

“The combination of all that bodes really well and puts us in a good position,” Donald said. “You do see the light here. The conversation is changing. The knowledge about COVID has changed. The ability to manage COVID has changed. All these things have moved in a positive direction. It’s a bad storm that the world finds itself in, but we will weather this storm, and that’s the trick. We just have to weather it and come out on the other end and hope for those bright cheery days that we’re all looking for.”

Donald emphasized that decisions will be made at the right time with continued work with the Centers for Disease Control and health experts.

“I think the determinant of the future of travel, including cruise, will be when society feels the risks associated with COVID-19 are at a low-enough level to feel comfortable with social gatherings,” he said.

Lovell asked if Carnival would require vaccinations for crew and passengers.

“As we do with everything, we’ll be informed by our global medical and science experts. It’s early, the vaccines are not as readily available to everyone all at once,” Donald said. “We are sailing, successfully now, without vaccines, on a very limited basis in Germany and Italy with cruises on our AIDA and Costa brands, and other companies are sailing as well, with guests very pleased. So I won’t jump the gun now and say it’ll be mandated but what I will say is, look, this is in everyone’s best interests to get everyone vaccinated.”

Lovell said he is seeing consumer confidence starting to rebound.

“We actually never saw a fall-off in bookings,” Donald said. “Our bookings have been very robust throughout this period. There’s clearly pent-up demand, especially for cruising.”

He noted the high loyalty of repeat cruisers who have gone almost a full year without “getting their cruise fix.

“Unfortunately, when we do restart as an industry and as a company, it’s not going to be a light switch,” he said. “It’s a gradual introduction, a laddered introduction of ships, and that’ll be just by necessity because all the destinations aren’t going to open simultaneously all at once; they all have all different regulations and such. So, we will see a period of demand probably far exceeding supply.”

Lovell also asked Donald if he foresees a unified campaign by the cruise industry, perhaps spearheaded by the Cruise Lines International Association, similar to the dairy industry’s “Got Milk?” campaign.

Donald said a singular campaign is not likely, since cruise lines are so different and source customers from all over the world, not just the U.S. Plus, it's not really needed.

“The reality is we don’t have a crisis of demand in cruise,” he said. “We’re not going to need to expand the market right away, simply because we're going to have less capacity. We’ve taken out 19 ships during this time. When we come back, even with a full fleet, we’re going to have less capacity, and it’s going to be staggered to begin with.”

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