Cruise line leaders from Carnival Corporation, Royal Caribbean Group and MSC Cruises came together on Tuesday morning in Miami to talk about the past, present and the future of the industry in a panel discussion, with all signs pointing to a strong 2023.
“There are always sleepless nights, as these are very large dynamic businesses. We are definitely on the other side of this. You are seeing our guests and crew going back to enjoying the best vacations in the world … we are not yet fully out of the woods but we can see all the light on the other side of this,” said Jason Liberty, president and CEO of Royal Caribbean Group, who also referred to the pandemic as a direct meteor hit on the industry.
Liberty said the back half of 2022 would normalize and look like pre-COVID business wise, with 2023 looking good.
“That means all of our ships back up and running, and occupancy and rate (ticket price) at levels we were seeing before COVID, hopefully better,” he said.
Arnold Donald, President and CEO of Carnival Corporation, said the pandemic had brought the industry closer together.
“We have doubled down on our focus to get to zero emissions,” he added. “The industry has gotten stronger and is really well positioned for the future.”
Also announced on Tuesday morning, Donald will move to a Vice Chairman role at Carnival Corporation as Josh Weinstein will move to the President and CEO role at Carnival Corporation as of August 1.
MSC Cruises Executive Chairman Pierfrancesco Vago, who delivered a keynote speech earlier in the day, said: “We’ve been through geopolitical problems, pandemics, security and safety and all kinds of issues … the capabilities of this industry to be so reactive and dynamic in the approach to learn and adapt to the situation is (incredible).”
One important moment, said Vago, was when the company restarted operations with the MSC Grandiosa, sailing from Genoa in July 2020.
Donald admitted that “whatever is in society will end up on the ships,” noting that COVID was not the first virus.
“We were able to put in protocols to manage it,” he said. “There will be COVID on ships. There is COVID everywhere in society.”
Donald added that the company had welcomed over 2 million guests since restarting without a major outbreak.
As for the industry’s relationship with the CDC, Donald said the industry is getting closer to having the CDC treat cruise ships like other travel and tourism industries.
Overall, Donald said things were looking very positive.
“2023 … we should be in a position to be better than we were in 2019,” Donald said.
Liberty said that the word future-proof was dangerous, but that the industry and Royal Caribbean were diligent.
“We can’t lose our diligence on anything we do,” Liberty said.
Other challenges covered include human resources and recruitment, the supply chain and inflation, with the executives noting the value of a cruise vacation would be a strong point when compared to land-based competition.
Of note, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings did not participate in the panel discussion for the second consecutive year.