Carnival Has ‘Every Reason’ to Be Back in the U.S. by End of Year, Says CEO

More guests are demanding refunds than future cruises

carnival cruise ship
Booking a future cruise remains a leap of faith for travelers. Carnival Cruise Line
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Carnival might return to cruising with U.S. customers by the end of the year, said Arnold Donald, the company’s CEO and President.

In a call with investors, Donald—who oversees Carnival Cruise Line, Holland America and Princess Cruises—admitted that even though the industry has been under a No Sail Order from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention since March, it might be lifted by the new year.

“At this time we have every reason to be optimistic that we will be sailing in the U.S. before the year ends,” Donald said. “We’ve got multiple testing regimens becoming more available. … The science is starting to align.”

The restriction was originally set to lift in September, but has been extended to the end of October and could likely continue until the federal agency believes it’s safe for guests. 

What Carnival’s testing regimen would look like for travelers is still unknown. In late September, Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean told the CDC that the best way to get back in the water was through rigorous testing of both guests and crew, as detailed in a 66-page report.

Carnival admitted that with “virtually no marketing,” it was seeing more travelers take refunds over “future cruise credits.” Overall, 45% have taken credits versus 55% asking for a refund.

On its balance sheet, Carnival has raised $12.5 billion since March, but is expected to burn about $650 million a month through the second half of 2020. Bookings for the first half of 2021 were said to fall on the “higher end” of Carnival’s “historic range,” although for a cheaper rate on average. Carnival declined to provide specific figures in the report.

While the pandemic has been severely damaging to the cruise industry, the brands are uniquely positioned to return before the rest of the travel ecosystem as cruises make nearly all of their money from leisure travel—even with reduced capacity. 

“Because our industry is not reliant on business travel, we believe we will disproportionately benefit from the pent-up demand,” said Donald. “Vacationers tend to travel through those challenges.”

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@RyanBarwick Ryan is a brand reporter covering travel, mobility and sports marketing.