“At this time, we have every reason to be optimistic we will be sailing in the U.S. before year’s end,” said Arnold Donald, president and CEO of Carnival Corporation, on today’s third quarter earnings call.
The company’s Costa Cruises brand has already returned to service with two ships in the Mediterranean, soon to be joined by a third ship, the Costa Smeralda, according to Donald. They are sailing weeklong cruises from different Italian homeports. The sister brand, AIDA, is set to launch service later this month, also in the Mediterranean, with German passengers.
Donald explained that the ships are sailing with lower occupancy levels enabling the cruise lines to test and assess their health and safety protocols.
With national brands, Donald said Carnival is ideally positioned for a phased in return to service, as each brand can be restarted independently, and in most cases with ready access to drive-to markets.
Also, with a small percentage of the fleet entering service for now, he said, there will be less reliance on new-to-cruise, compared to all previous growth cycles that required the brands to tap more new passengers.
In addition, as Carnival is disposing of some 18 older ships and right-sizing its shoreside organization, Donald said a leaner and more efficient company would emerge.
“All initiatives going forward will be focused on maximizing cash generation and creating shareholder value. The delivery schedules of new ships have been stretched out and there is only one new ship on order for 2024 and one for 2025. This will further reduce our capital expenditures and allow us to repay debt,” he added.
Added David Bernstein, CFO and chief accounting officer: “We are focused on assets that are cash generative, so we can pay down debt, rebuild our balance sheet and get back to investment grade rating.
“We are working through a number of different financial scenarios, but there is a lot of uncertainty involved so it is difficult to give (financial) guidance. (However), we expect over time to build occupancy up to generate positive cash flow and reduce the cash burn. The start up occupancy level is less than 50 percent. Over time, once we know we have things right, we will increase occupancy, while keeping social distancing in mind as well.”
Bernstein noted that the break-even point ranges from 30 to 50 percent occupancy for different ships.