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 came to be called the poop cruise when toilets didn’t flush as the powerless ship floated in the Caribbean for days. Under the leadership of the New Orleans native, Carnival prospered for several years, posting a $3 billion profit in 2019. Then came the pandemic, and the company lost $10 billion.
It’s CEO Arnold Donald’s job to navigate uncharted waters for the cruise giant, which operates nine brands that span the globe. The company hopes to have the entire fleet of nearly 90 ships back sailing by next spring, but regulations aimed at limiting the spread of COVID-19 on board have meant slow going so far. Donald is counting on experienced cruisers being eager to sail again. He acknowledges, however, that the industry faces a challenge to attract new followers. Donald talked recently to The Associated Press about his company, the cruise industry and the intersection of business and politics. Answers have been edited for length.
Q. Can you start by describing what the pandemic has done to Carnival? A. It’s certainly been devastating to the travel and tourism sector overall and maybe even more so to the cruise industry in particular. Even though we had no revenue, we had to continue to man the ships with minimal manning, so we had a significant burn rate with no revenue coming in.
Q. How will your company and the cruising industry recover? A. It’s very simple. The demand for travel experience in the global population has not gone away — that demand is still there. In a very short period of time, the world has kind of made itself knowledgeable and developed solutions to address (COVID-19). It’s not perfect. It’s not foolproof, but it’s allowing us to return to the things we love in a better way. We have successfully been sailing during the pandemic, even before vaccines over in Europe. Q. What impact has the delta variant of COVID-19 had on bookings and cancellations?
A. I can’t talk between quarters, but just generally I would tell you that as we look ahead we don’t see major barriers out in the future to cruise. Q. Do you worry that last year’s news coverage of virus outbreaks on cruise ships will scare away passengers for a long time? A. For people who haven’t cruised and don’t understand it and don’t know what it is, sure, those images make it a harder hill for us to climb. For those who have cruised — and there are plenty of them — we do not have an issue because they know that when you go on a cruise there’s a medical center on board and there’s a doctor and nurses and hand-sanitizing stations. We’ve got a lot of protocols already in place, and now we have enhanced those for the specificity of the challenge that is COVID-19. People who cruise understand that. They they know the ships are not airplanes where people are sitting right next to each other all the time.
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